December 12, Third Sunday In Advent
Isaiah 12:2-6; Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-9; Luke 3:7-18
The words of John the Baptist conveyed to us in the third chapter of Luke qualify him to be in the company of Isaiah and Zephaniah and Paul, all wonderful and much needed scourges. Advent, however, brings encouragement even to our sternest, most uncompromising critics. They turn sanguine--God's mercy upon them and, one surely hopes, the rest of us.
As we read these confident, reassuring passages in this Christmas season, we had best remember whose voices are coming our way. Not the voices of glib optimists, anxious to promise pie-in-the-sky to anyone and everyone. Not the voices of healers at all costs, determined to assuage anxiety wherever it appears, banish all evidence of fear and worry and guilt. These are, rather, individuals who forever (and with great passion, conviction, eloquence) scolded all in sight. These were teachers and preachers who had no interest in currying the favor of their students, their listeners; rather, the point was to explain in no uncertain terms one's outrage, one's sense of horror, one's disgust. When such human beings suddenly become entranced with confident expectation, a minor miracle seems at hand--a prelude, of course, to that major miracle of all time: the Word become flesh.
Too often today our secular experts, the people we (alas) are inclined to heed, have scant interest in condemnation, in moral censure. On the contrary, we are told we ought not be afraid or anxious; certainly we ought rid ourselves of guilt, which I keep hearing in one psychiatric conference after another is "self-destructive" or "causes symptoms."