In Luke’s gospel there is a moment (or some unspecified period of time) when people thought John the Baptist might be the Messiah for whom they had been longing. He was a strong preacher whose call of “Repent!” was gaining traction. This morning’s gospel shows how exacting John’s message was and how individualized to each group of people. Three times in response to his rather stark (some would say withering) comments to listeners whom he had just called a “brood of vipers” he was asked: What should we do? To the crowds he said, Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none and whoever has food should do likewise. To the tax collectors he said, Stop collecting more than is prescribed. And finally, when the soldiers asked the same question, he said, Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages. (LK 3:10-18) If taken literally – which I would wager was John’s intent – those would have been tall orders for the people of his day. I had a new respect for John this morning because he saw each group as needing a specific change of heart and his message was appropriate to each group who was listening.
Today is Gaudete Sunday, one of those days in the liturgical year when I am grateful for Sister Thomas Aquinas, my high school Latin teacher. Because of her, I know that gaudete is the plural imperative of the verb to rejoice. We are half-way through the waiting period of Advent (another Latin term meaning to come toward). So if I were asked this morning, “What should we do?” I would respond to everyone that we should Be happy! Celebrate! Rejoice! because the Lord is near to bursting forth once again in the fullness of hope in our hearts. But each of us must determine how that rejoicing will help us prepare. Do we need to be attentive to a relationship or might we find a service organization that needs our help? Maybe our prayer life needs more of our time in order to bring us to the realization of a deeper happiness. Whatever the way to express our anticipation of the Christ event so that Christmas will see us full of celebratory joy, today is the day to consider the possibilities. So Gaudete, everyone! The Lord is near indeed.