The theme for this week's (Advent 3) Scripture readings is joy. This the reason behind the pink candle on the Advent wreath. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah announces joy for all the broken-earted. He says, "I am full of joy in the Lord, my God." In the second reading, Paul recommends: "Always be joyful." In this week's Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28) the Baptist's task is "to bear witness to the light," the light of Christ that enlightens our hearts with an inner serenity of being in God's presence. The Baptist is just a voice that witnesses the coming of the light (Christ) into the world. The Gospel invites us to let our lives be embraced by the Messiah's light. A light that creates in us a pervasive sense of well-being, a sense of peace and joy. Even in the midst of the dark times in our lives, even where there is great loss, the light of Christ produces joy in our hearts. Joy is a basic element of the inner transformation of Christ's light. "The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). God made us for joy, but without the light of Christ we settle for pleasure. Advent is a time to remember the message of the Angels at the birth of the Christ Child - "I bring you good news of great joy."
John the Baptist pointed to the true help coming in Jesus. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit," John said. When God helps, he doesn't just explain the problem and tell us where to get further help if we need it. Nor does he command and then expect us to live up to the commandments under our own ability. He gives commands to show us how much we need, and then he himself helps us completely, withholding nothing, giving us all that we need and more. That is what happens in Baptism. Christ doesn't simply mark us out for a gift and wait to see how we'll respond. Nor does he withhold the gift for some future date. He gives everything in Baptism, declaring us his own and sending his Spirit into us to "call, gather, enlighten, sanctify and keep us" as his own, as the Small Catechism's explanation of the Third Article says. That is the comfort of the gospel. People go part way in dealing with others. They take the initiative, then wait for a response. But Christ goes all the way, not only taking the initiative but creating the response in us by giving us faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit. He both promises to be our Lord and gives us the faith to believe it, coming to us again and again in his Spirit, keeping us in the faith to which he restores us. The good news in the Gospel for this Sunday is heard when we recognize who acts. Ordinarily we assume that we have the action, at least some of it - that God goes part way and that we meet him and complete the task, working faith in ourselves, but "all flesh is grass," as Isaiah says. "The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever" (vv.6-8). God is the one who takes the action, and he takes it all. As he sent his word of comfort to Israel, he speaks his word to us. And as he speaks to us, he also goes to work in the sacraments to give us every gift.
Jesus tells us in the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel…All authority has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20).
Christ’s Great Commission +Baptize all people +Teach the baptized
Baptize: Christians are made, not born, Tertullian taught. Through the act of baptism God makes us Christians and adopts us into his eternal family. Christ’s Spirit, is baptized into us so that we might participate into his mission of reconciliation to make all things new.
Teach: The baptized learn how to be disciples by practicing the seven habits Jesus taught. These seven habits feed the faith of the baptized, which is referred to as faith formation. The first three habits are foundational: Remembering our baptismal adoption into God’s family; Listening to God’s law and Gospel voice in Scripture; Praying for God’s help with all our daily needs. The last four teachings of Preparing, Returning, Inviting, and Caring each build upon the foundation of the first three habits.
The purpose of Jesus’ habits has always remained the same. We have been invited into God’s family through baptism, and the habits teach us how to participate in Christ’s eternal kingdom. Discipleship training is not intended to simply be a way of becoming more religious or more spiritual. Discipleship training is about being more engaged in Christ’s redeeming kingdom in the world. The seven habits open our hearts to the wonder and mystery of Christ’s redeeming work in our lives, in our faith community, neighborhood, society, and in the world. The seven habits of Jesus give us his own capacity to celebrate the love, joy, peace, justice and hope he has brought into the world. The habits of Jesus help us to discern and celebrate that Christ is making all things new.
Advent is the time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. There are two major orientations in this liturgical season: our preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus and our preparation for the celebration of his First Coming. In this first week, the Gospel invites us to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus at the End-time. During the other three Sundays of Advent, we are introduced to different people who helped prepare the way. The Prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary who says yes to God's call to become the mother of the Savior. In keeping with the spirit of Advent, today's Gospel is an invitation to be vigilant. It is taken from Jesus' speech about the end of time (Mk 13) where he urges his disciples six times to be vigilant and to 'stay awake.' The return of Jesus is likened to that of a master of a house. Before setting out on the journey, the master gives to each person a specific task. The door keeper also has his work and has to keep awake to open to the master at any moment, even if he comes during the night. The Gospel writers want to make us realize that to be a Christian is to belong to a family of which there is a head. The head of the family is not always physically present. It is as though he has gone somewhere but has not abandoned his children. The Master has told them what to do in his absence as they await his return. Some early Christians thought that Jesus would return during their lifetime and decided to stop working. Paul has to scold them and order them to resume (2Th.3:10-13). Mark found it necessary also to remind his readers not to be idle just because Jesus is not physically present nor to despair in the midst of their troubles because he will come back in victory. In our congregations, we share our different ministries so that all member of the "household" are meaningfully occupied as they await Christ' return. We must be faithful and watchful because we will have to give an account to the Master when he comes.
The challenge now facing the Church is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ beyond the confines of a congregation. This is not a challenge that will cost money or require much effort. However, it is a shift that challenges the baptized to live their daily lives as disciples and followers of Christ Jesus. Through a discipleship model Christians are being invited to daily participate in the Church’s first model of ministry: living each day with Christ. Today, Christians are being challenged to a renewed understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The Seven Habits of Jesus teach us how to be disciples both in Christian community and in our daily lives.
The Gospel begins with apocalyptic (endtime) images that convey Christ's kingship. The image of the Son of Man coming in glory reflects imagery from Daniel 7:13-14 and recalls other places in Matthew's Gospel where Jesus foretells the coming judgment (24:30-31; 26:64). The portrait of Christ as King is a fearsome one in this text. All the nations of the world have gathered before him and behold his majesty. From the throne, the king uses his authority to separate the people. To illustrate the separation of one individual from another, Jesus likens himself to a shepherd who separates his flock of sheep from the goats who are grazing in the same pasture. The sheep receive the place of honor and inherit God's kingdom (25:34). Jesus calls the sheep those who are "Blessed by my Father" (25:34). Who are the blessed ones? In Christ's kingdom, the blessed ones are those who do not retaliate with violence, but bear witness to a new reign of God by serving others (25:31-46). The blessed ones have demonstrated their faithfulness by performing acts of loving-kindness. The charge to care for the poor and the disadvantaged can be found throughout Scripture, but it is especially exhibited in the ministry of Jesus. In this Gospel, Christ has announced the arrival of God's kingdom while he cures the sick, welcomes the despised, and provides food for the hungry. He orders his disciples to carry on his ministry by doing likewise. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' teaching has announced and illustrated the kingdom of God. God's kingdom does not function like a typical kingdom. This divine reign has invaded the world and is good news--especially to those on the fringes of society. This rule welcomes those who have no status and seeks to serve others rather than exploit them. Those who have experienced God's kingdom cannot go back to life as it once was. The difference between followers of Jesus and those who do not know Jesus is that those who have seen Jesus no longer have any excuse to avoid the "least of these." The blessed ones are those who have seen a King who is not like the kings of this world. They are blessed because they know a King who brings real peace, who sees the needy, and who hears the cries of the oppressed. In God's kingdom, no one is hungry, naked, sick, or alone. To bear witness to Christ as King is to be a messenger of this kingdom--to serve others and thereby profess the invasion of God's glorious empire.
The Gospel for the day explains that there will come a time when people are held accountable for their lives. The precise time may not be known, but the accounting will be certain. There is a certain amount of risk involved in trying to live according to God's will. When we help others or try to do what is best for others, we must give our time, our money, and ourselves. We may have to change our attitudes and our life-styles. Of course, we may decide to eliminate the risk and not help others. It was inactivity, failure to take a risk for someone else, which brought condemnation on the man of the parable. God has given us many gifts to be used during our lifetime. We are accountable to God as to how we live and how we grow - how we use his gifts. The parable speaks of the action of the men almost as one would speak of a muscle of the body. The one who exercises the muscle will be able to do more with that muscle. The one who fails to use the muscle will eventually lose its use. Some of us may believe we have received few significant talents. However we have received life from God and forgiveness and new life in Christ. We have also received the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are listed in Gal. 5:22, as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control As God's people we can use the gifts God has given us in our lives. God has also given us an arena in which to exercise these gifts. We have our family, friends, our neighborhoods, or country, our world. God has made us his people through his creation and redemption. As his people we are responsible for what we do or fail to do. We are to live, not withdraw; what we do for other people affects our relationship with God. Each day our lives are shaped and molded by what we do and how we understand ourselves. God has blessed us with all that is necessary for life and growth. How will we use God's gifts?
To understand any of Jesus’ parables we need to identify “one main point.” It’s not helpful to get “wrapped-up” in all the allegorical details. In the early Church there was a kind of feverish expectation for the return, or the second coming, of the Lord. Over time the first Christians began to realize that Christ’s return was not going to occur any time soon. Many began to doubt and get discouraged. Verse 13 helps us to identify this parable’s one main point---When we can appreciate that Christ lives in our hearts, we become less concerned by the day or the hour of his return.
Jesus reveals surprising things about who enjoys blessings and who endures woe. He invites his disciples to shower radical love, blessings, forgiveness, generosity, and trust, even to enemies and outsiders. In holy baptism God makes saints out of sinners. In holy communion God forgives the sins of all the saints. On All Saints Day we give thanks for all the saints “who from their labors rest,” who have fought the good fight, who have gained the crown. In the same breath we petition our God for the strength to hear and to heed the admonitions of the Lord Jesus in today’s gospel. Recalling that we have been sealed by the Spirit and sustained by the Savior’s body and blood, we keep on keeping on as God gives us breath, to the praise of God’s glory.