The theme of rejoicing coincides with what the Church celebrates on the third Sunday of Advent, which is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means joy. The Church purposely sets it on the third Sunday as it is sensitive to people’s feelings when in waiting, we might find the waiting too long, tiring, and agonizing. In this regard, the inclusion of a joyful Sunday in waiting gives us some consolation and encouragement in order to persevere in our waiting.
But the feeling of rejoicing is not sufficient in our preparation for the coming of Jesus. Rather, the Gospel presents the question of various people as to how they could truly prepare. With the question, “What should we do?” John then challenges their generosity and sense of fairness so that others may have reason to rejoice. Give bread to those who are hungry and clothes to those who have none. When the tax collectors inquire as to what they are to do, John tells them to maintain the going rate without over taxing people in order to take advantage. People are already suffering and thus feel burdened enough. Be just. To the soldiers who accompany tax collectors to protect them and give support to their requests, John tells these people not to use their position as a weapon for their own reward. Be content with one’s pay and stop stealing from the poor and the weak. John exhorts them to be happy in doing what is fair and just.
In summary, we are enjoined to do works of charity and justice. We are being asked for some renewal. What are the ways by which we can respond to these challenges of John?
It is clear that the question raised is collective in that the word used is “we” and thus pertains to a community. However, before our community can bring about this change of heart, there must be a profound transformation of one’s way of life, a repentance in oneself. Let us not be deceived that one may change one’s community without changing oneself. A community is a unity of individuals and different persons after the heart of Jesus. It is not only a question of “What ought we to do?” but also “What ought I to do?” in the community?
There is a story from the book of Anthony de Mello, an Indian Jesuit: A great Indian mystic says this about himself:
“I was a revolutionary when I was young, and all my prayer to God was: `Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’
As I approached middle age and realized that half my life was gone without changing a single soul. I changed my prayer to: `Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me. Just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.'”
Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: Lord, give me the grace to change myself. If I had prayed for this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life.
Rejoice and at the same time, be fair and just, which is brought about by one’s personal conversion — this is the right combination as our waiting during this Advent season becomes meaningful. Let us allow Jesus to be more real and present in our lives this Christmas.