Second Sunday of Advent Cycle C
Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
I have been reading a lot of the Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton lately. In his commentary on the life of Saint Francis he had this to say which struck me as relevant to today’s readings and our Advent journey: “It is commonly in a somewhat cynical sense that men have said, ‘Blessed is he that expect[s] nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.’ It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, ‘Blessed is he who expect[s] nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.’ It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero, from the dark nothingness of his own deserts, that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them; and they are in themselves the best working example of the idea. For there is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset. … [T]he less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of his good luck and of all the gifts of God.” [G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis, Chapter V, https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/15471/documents/2016/10/G.K.Cheste... ]
I love Saint Francis, as do most people that I have encountered. It is amazing that someone could be so child-like in his passion to love God and those around him and yet not be childish in his desire to satisfy himself. I know that I don’t have this type of passion – I am more a stoic. Saint Francis had enormous trust, whether it was the rule of his order that they own nothing and trust in the people they met in their journeys to help feed and shelter them, or in his crossing enemy lines just to talk to the sultan during the Crusades. I only wish that I had this type of trust, but I am more worried about the day-to-day issues and having the security of financial savings.
Saint Francis was Saint Francis because he was able to live the ideal that is conveyed in today’s readings, and is the ideal of our journey through the Advent season: trust in God, He will provide, prepare ourselves so that God will find us ready in our love of Him and our neighbor to share in the great gifts that He wishes to bestow upon us. The gift already given, that of God becoming incarnate and joining the human race as one of us at the first Christmas, we will memorialize in just a few days, when as John the Baptist tells us in the Gospel reading, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” [NABRE, Luke 3:6]. God’s future promised gift will be the rewards that the Son promised us if we follow Him, that is to say eternal life.
But God does not just want us to be happy in the next life, although this He promises as well. He also promises that we can be joyful in this life as well. As the first reading promises, “For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him” [Baruch 5:9 NRSV]. The prophet Baruch is reminding a Jewish community that is dispirited due to their long exile in Babylon that God will bring joy to them, just as John the Baptist is doing in the desert to a Jewish community that is dispirited due to their long occupation by first the Greeks and then the Romans. Luke today details the list of Roman rulers at the time of Christ and the Jewish cronies who carried out the Roman occupation, so as to put a historical context to John’s preaching, and those to whom he was preaching, and the world to which Christ is sent. Therefore, we can also easily see that Baruch and John are preaching to us in the modern world, who are also oppressed by worldly cares, a society that cares more for money and power than on mercy and compassion, and technology which increasingly dehumanizes and subtly manipulates us. We too share in these promises.
I think what amazes us is that Saint Francis, who was oppressed by similar issues in Medieval times, was so truly joyful, just like all the other saints, each in their own way. Mr. Chesterton was trying to get at this, the way that by emptying himself of his worldly cares, he can truly appreciate the gifts of God such as the star or the sunset, and in the simple things that sustain life. Francis learned this from Christ, who taught us all how to truly empty oneself, as Saint Paul points out in the famous Philippians hymn: “[Christ] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” [Philippians 2:7-8 NABRE]. Now normally this great passage from Saint Paul's letter is discussed in detail around Easter, where the supreme sacrifice was made, but it also refers to Christmas, where the incarnation of God into the form of a human took place. This was also an emptying of himself: the fact that Jesus was born in humble circumstances in Bethleham is as important to the true understanding of God's plan for us as the passion. It all adds up to the lesson we must learn, and we all admire Saint Francis that he seemed to learn this lesson better than almost everyone else.
As we prepare ourselves for Christmas, how do we, in what can be a hectic time of year, empty ourselves and prepare for the coming of our Lord? Most of us are not willing nor able to emulate Saint Francis by becoming a mendicant friar roaming the land. But we can learn from him nonetheless, and one thing that helps was also brought out by Mr. Chesterton when he wrote later in his book, “[Francis] was above all things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which is called thanksgiving” [chapter 10]. For he knew what we all know instinctively but don't practice: that when we appreciate all the many things that we have in life, we become joyful. When we only count up all the things in life we don't have, we become miserable. If Advent degenerates into an exercise in getting all that one wants – gifts, food, entertainment, whatever – then it usually ends in disappointment at Christmas. If one focuses on what is truly important – the joy of God's presence among us and the desire to spread that joy to others – we stand the chance of actually receiving that joy ourselves.
The parish intention for this week is to pray for all catechists. Our catechists bring the joy of God's presence to all that they teach by making them better disciples, thus fulfilling our mission and Christ's great mandate. We all should be truly thankful for their service to our Church, for by their service they demonstrate the difference between being a Christian as a passive social activity and being a Christian as an active member of the Body of Christ. May they all be blessed for their stewardship to those who want to grow in the faith.
As we continue the Mass, let us be thankful for God's gift of Himself in the Eucharist at the altar her today. Let us also pray for the intercession of Saint Francis in our lives, that his passion to be truly thankful and his hunger to see God in all people and indeed all things may be instilled in us in some small part. May Francis' child-like zeal be a model for us as we try to have a true Christmas spirit of love and thanksgiving.