Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent
Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18.
Brothers and sisters,
Today is Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday. We are reminded even in the midst of our many struggles and disappointments that the Lord is coming and God’s reign of restorative justice is being fulfilled. We are summoned to be agents of God’s reign, embodying and putting into action the call to a better future for all. In a world of fear and the defence of the status quo is the natural default position, we are led, just as our ancestors in faith, beyond our limited horizons into an eschatological hope, that is, the fulfilment of God’s redemptive purpose.
Chaos and uncertainty can become the venue of growth, transformation and possibility.
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 deliverance. 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. They persisted in their self-indulgence 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 remnants that God is in control of their destiny and they “have no more evil to fear.”
Just as Zephaniah did 700 years earlier, John the Baptist was a disruptor to those who had vested interests in continuity and resisted the new things that God was doing. With strong language like “brood of vipers”, he condemned their hard-heartedness and refusal to walk the way of humility, love and service. John, however, also showed his gentle side to the ordinary people who came to him for guidance. 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”.
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. Our culture is often committed to continuity or amnesia, even when it is time to question the benefit of the status quo and to embark on a new and more sustainable pathway. We are organized in our lives, in our society and even in our churches around order, control and predictability. We fear mess and surprise. But this is a negation of the Spirit who does new things within the people of God.
The call of God to us is not to settle in false certitude and security. Rather it is to travel beyond our limited horizons and discern how we can be true missionary disciples and credible bearers of the Good News. Discipleship is a journey that demands a critical discernment of the status quo and an openness to the new ways of doing things that the Holy Spirit constantly asks of 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 to act out of our commitment to the Gospel values rather than to give in to the collective apathy, aided and abetted by the culture of fear and inertia. We cannot be salt and leaven if we allow our Christian conscience to be desensitized 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.
This week, we witness something of the goodness of ordinary Australians, including many Catholics. They formed what is known as “Operation not forgotten” and worked with their counterparts in Canada in order to resettle the remaining 100 refugees Australia has abandoned in PNG and Nauru. 8 of these landed in Vancouver and began their lives again. That is faith in action!
Advent is a season of hope. Hope spurs us into action, knowing that our efforts will not be in vain. May we be inspired by the prophetic dream of Zephaniah and the vision of John the Baptist to show the alternative pathway of hope against fear, compassion against indifference and courage against self-interest. May this Covid disruption serve to remind us of the shared destiny for all that we work towards.