Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent Year C 2018 at St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie
Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
16 December 2018
Brothers and sisters,
This week, my choice for a good news story is the visit of Malala to Australia. Malala is known all over the world for her courage to defy the Talibans. The youngest Nobel Laureate, she was here to launch her book on refugees and to promote her fund to educate 130 million girls not in school. What a great cause!
While she loved Australia and our cricket team, Malala was candid in her view on Australia’s policy of indefinite detention of asylum seekers. “They want safety, they want homes, they want somebody to give them protection, and then suddenly you welcome them with hatred,” she said. Her words, which are deeply rooted in her experience challenge all of us, especially Australian Catholics, to work towards a more humane and compassionate response.
The Word of God today also challenges us to actively prepare for the coming of the Lord and not fall victim to apathy, indifference and self-indulgence. In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah speaks to the faithful in Israel and exhorts them to take heart in view of God’s restorative justice.
Zephaniah ministered during the turbulent period before the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jews in Babylon. Most of his prophecy is concerned with the total apathy of the leading citizens and the disintegration of Israel. Instead of seeing the writing on the wall, they were impervious to the threats of destruction.
Like those who perished during the great flood in Noah’s time, these persisted in their self-indulgence and self-interest until the day of reckoning overtook them. Zephaniah reserved the harshest indictment to the powerful elites while he comforted those who suffered for their fidelity to the covenant.
Here in the last chapter of his book, his tone of tenderness is contrasted sharply with his fierce anger against the wicked earlier.
He spoke collectively of God’s poor as “daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem”. He assured the anawim or the faithful remnants that God is in control of their destiny and they “have no more evil to fear.”
The call to rejoice by the prophet and by St Paul in the second reading is somewhat tempered by the somber message of John the Baptist. He was the voice crying in the wilderness calling all to repentance and conversion.
This call challenges us to grow in our faith so we will not be so self-absorbed that we fail to see and respond to God’s non-negotiable purpose for humanity. Much of the transforming power of our faith is lost when we have grown too comfortable with it.
We must hear again and again the call to be faithful, to correct our course through life and to go the way that God would have us to go.
John’s call in the Gospel is for us to witness to our faith in whatever role we play and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. To the crowds, he says “give what you have; share with the poor”. To the tax collectors, he says “be fair and just”. To the soldiers “do not use your power for self gain”. We might not fit into those categories. However, we too must express our faith in practical, concrete, visible ways so as to give credible witness to who we are and what we believe.
Zephaniah and John the Baptist were the voice that cut to the chase. They warn us of the impending disaster if we continue to bury our heads in the sand.
They insist that our ethical choices and actions have consequences, both in the here and now as well as on the Day of the Lord which is a metaphor for God’s ultimate judgment.
In the midst of the environmental, economic, social and moral crisis, the prophetic warning cannot be more pertinent to us. As true believers, we can do well to listen, see and act prophetically so that the Day of the Lord may be source of vindication, comfort and joy to us.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Pope Francis has constantly challenged us not to be complacent, not to remain in self-absorption, not to remain behind looked doors of our comfort and fear of change. He encourages us to take our missionary discipleship seriously. This means that we must follow the lead of our ancestors in faith.
We must persevere in bearing witness to God’s plan for humanity. We cannot be salt and leaven if we allow our Christian conscience to be desensitised by the inequality, injustice and inhumanity in our society and in the world. It is God’s vision of justice, hospitality and human flourishing for all that guides us.
Advent is a season of hope. Hope spurs us into action, knowing that our efforts will not be in vain. Jesus Christ is the true source of our hope. For his life, death and resurrection have launched the course of history irreversibly in the direction of the Kingdom.
While waiting for him and the fulfilment of the Kingdom at the fullness of time, let us live our lives in faith, hope and love. May we be inspired by the prophetic dream of Zephaniah and the vision of John the Baptist to show the alternative pathway of hope, inclusion and sustainability through shared humanity against the dystopia future of fear and despair.