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December 14, 2003

What Should We Do? (Luke 3:10-18)

Next week we celebrate Christmas, so we are invited once again during these holy days of Advent to pray for the Advent graces of light, hope, peace and joyful expectation, to be ready for Christ. So today we hear again about John the Baptist, on this third Sunday, and he’s telling everyone to repent, be baptized, and prepare for the coming of Christ. He’s tough and political, which is why in the end, the authorities arrest him and chop off his head.

Most of us think people were baptized and then they set out to change their lives, but for John, it was the other way around--you changed your life, and then went and were baptized as a sign of the conversion that had already happened. So John tells the crowds that they have to change their lives and they ask this critical question, not once but three times: “What should we do?”

This is the question of the Gospel of Luke today: What should we do? Not what do WE want to do but, what does the Gospel want us to do? What do the saints and prophets and apostles want us to do? What does Jesus want us to do? That’s our question. What should we do with our lives, with our families, with the church, with our life in the world--for Christ?

Today, John the Baptist gives some specific instructions:

First, to those who have two coats, we are to give away one coat to those who don’t have any. We have to share our clothes and possessions with one another and the poor around the world. That’s the first thing we should do--share our possessions, beginning with our extra clothing.

Second, whoever has extra food should share their extra food with those who do not have any food. We have to share our food with those who are hungry, so that no one goes hungry anywhere. Notice these are very concrete, practical steps. Sharing what we have with those in need is the beginning of the spiritual life. The spiritual journey begins when we meet the material needs of the poor!

Third, he tells tax collectors not to take more money than they are supposed to take, which is quite a challenge because those guys were brutal, oppressive, rotten thieves who cheated everyone and took much more than they were supposed to from the poor. John tells them to be fair and just, which means we are supposed to do the same, to be fair and just.

Fourth, he tell the soldiers not to practice extortion, in other words, not to take money or resources from others by threatening people with violence and death, and also to be satisfied with your wages. If soldiers are not allowed to steal money or resources--like we are doing in in Iraq with their oil--and threaten people with death unless they get what they are ordered to take, then they are not allowed to kill people. These Roman soldiers, like all soldiers, then and now, are trained to steal resources and kill people, so this is a call to conversion. If the soldiers followed John’s commandment they would have to quit or face imprisonment, trial and execution.

Finally, John says that One who is mightier is coming, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, one who is clearing the decks, sweeping the floor, gathering the good wheat into his barn, and throwing the weeds into the fire, so in other words, get ready for Christ. We are not getting ready for Santa, but for Someone much more powerful. We do not have 12 days of shopping left; we have 12 days of preparing for Christ.

So dear friends, today I invite you to enter again into this holy season of Advent and to reflect on what John the Baptist and Jesus want you to do; to reflect on your life. Are you doing what God wants you to do, what Jesus wants you to do? And if not, what should you do to get back on course, to get back on track, to get back to the basics of the Gospel?

Each year, in Advent, we hear these famous Advent antiphons that lead to Christmas, so I offer them again as our Advent prayer this week.

    Wisdom, uttered by the mouth of the Most High, and reaching to the ends of the earth, come and teach us the way of prudence.

    Adonai, ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, come and redeem us.

    Root of Jesse, standard of the nations and of kings, whom the whole world implores, come and deliver us. Key of

    David and Sceptre of the house of Israel, what you open none can shut, come and lead us out of darkness.

    Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light and Sun of Justice, shine on those lost in darkness, come to enlighten us.

    Emmanuel, God present in our midst, long awaited Savior and King, come and save us, O Lord our God.

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