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Heralds of Good News

· Fr Phil Paxton

To all,

This Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent is often referred to as “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” For me, it usually reminds us during this Advent season when we are anticipating the celebration of Christmas and of Christ’s Second Coming, that the time is really coming, and we can rejoice. The sentiment is expressed in our second reading (1Thessalonians 5:16-24), where St. Paul simply writes: “Rejoice always.”

During this past year, we have all expressed to ourselves and others about how hard this year has been, with the pandemic and its devastating effects on families and the economy, with a national self-examination about racial injustice, with violence and threatened violence coming out of the divisions between us. And I thought about past crises in the U.S. and throughout the world: world wars, attempted genocides, monumental natural disasters, migrations of vast numbers of people fleeing war and violence or famine and disease. How did people celebrate Christmas or Hanukah or other religious holy days in the past? How were they able to give thanks, or find joy?

In some ways, what is going on now is unprecedented. At the same time, pain and grief and sorrow are part of the human experience. I don’t say this to minimize what is going on now. I say this because it indicates to me that my joy must have a deeper source than just getting what I want, or somehow not having problems.

For us Christians, our joy comes from knowing God loves us, and that God’s love for us is do deep and wide that the Son of God actually became one of us in order to save us! And that this Son of God become human died for us on the Cross and rose from the dead to give us the promise of everlasting life! Despite everything that is going on, this is still Good News! And this is the news John the Baptist tells the people in our Gospel reading (John 1:6-8, 19-28).

Last week, I mentioned that we would hear about John the Baptist two weeks in a row. Last week, we reflected on John’s message of repentance. I see that as an invitation to look inside of ourselves, and turn back to the God who loves us. In this Gospel reading, John keeps telling anyone who will listen that he is only preparing the way for the Messiah. He is not the Messiah. In other words, John is pointing, not to himself, but to someone else. I see this as an invitation to look outside of ourselves. Like John, we are to be heralds of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

How are we to be heralds of Good News? Are we heralds of God’s love in Jesus Christ by demonizing the other, even to the point of getting armed and trying to intimidate others, because they disagree with us, or because they are trying to do their jobs impartially? Are we heralds of God’s love by ignoring those considered “least” of us? No! We have an indication of how we are to be heralds of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Take the words of our first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11). Like the prophet, we have been “anointed” to “bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” We bring glad tidings to the poor by tending to their needs. We heal the brokenhearted by giving support and encouragement and solace. We proclaim liberty to those held captive by addiction by pointing them toward a Higher Power who does not condemn them, but calls them to commit themselves to a program of surrender and service. We proclaim liberty to those held captive by their own or by others’ prejudices and fears by showing them God’s love for them and the people they have been taught to hate, and more importantly, working for the justice that brings real peace. We can bring release to those who are prisoners of shame and self-loathing by offering them the unconditional love of God.

I know this all sounds fanciful and unrealistic, but I also know that people have been able to do these things with concrete ideas and actions. Sharing God’s love with others; being heralds of good news: Can we find joy in that?

I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.

In Christ Who Is to Come,

Phil, CP