John, the Locust-Eating Moderate
Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings by Tom and April Hoopes.
Dec. 13 is the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Liturgical Year C, Cycle II).
There are two reasons to commemorate Dec. 13.
St. Lucy’s calendar day is one. The Sunday feast supplants it liturgically, but she can still be remembered this day. She’s famous as the victim of a gruesome act of torture: Her eyes were torn out (and she’s often depicted holding them on a plate). What’s less known about Lucy (283-304) was that she was a devotee of St. Agatha, who was a virgin and martyr who was put to death half a century before her. Lucy angered her fiancé by distributing many of her family’s riches to the poor in gratitude for a miracle she attributed to St. Agatha. He reported her as a Christian, and she was first condemned to suffer prostitution. She refused, and her captors found her literally unmovable.
Her feast day is celebrated especially in Sweden, by crowning the oldest daughter and having her deliver baked goods for breakfast to family members in bed. The custom is for the oldest daughter to bake the coffee cake — but Mom is usually happy to help. It was once the custom to put candles on a wreath on the eldest daughter’s head, but we find having her sister hold a candle beside her conveys the imagery of light and sight just as well. It’s also safer — and cuts down on “Lucy envy.”
Gaudete Sunday is the other, liturgically pre-eminent, celebration on this day. The name of the Third Sunday of Advent means “rejoice.” Advent is more than half over, and we’re that much closer to Christmas. The rose (pink) candle in the Advent wreath is lit today, and if the priest wishes, he can wear rose vestments.
Tom finally splurged to fulfill his Advent dream now that we have more possibility in our Kansas yard. He bought purple and pink Christmas lights and is building an outdoor Advent wreath of candles — three purple and one pink — to count down to Christmas with outdoor lights. We will light the pink one and keep it burning all week.
Zephaniah 3:14-18; Isaiah 12:2-6 (today’s “Psalm”); Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
Today is Gaudete Sunday, “Rejoice Sunday” — and if the first three readings don’t give you a reason to rejoice, the Gospel should.
The Gospel is good news indeed. In it, the crowds ask John the Baptist, “What should we do?”
Maybe they were bracing for an extremist answer. Maybe they looked at this man who wore camel’s hair and ate bugs and had a little trepidation in their voices when they asked. What would he ask them to do? Would they have to live in the desert, too?
But John’s answer is the height of discretio — a virtue of discernment and balance St. Benedict praises as essential if we are to both strive seriously for Christian ideals and acknowledge our human weaknesses.
John’s advice is: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.”
He doesn’t say “Give up your coats and kill a camel,” though that is what he has done. He means don’t own too much.
His advice about food doesn’t mention locusts, but it applies the same principle: Share what you have.
His advice to different groups who approach him is tailor-made for them. For tax collectors, his advice was: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
For soldiers: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
So, the good news of the Gospel is that the Gospel is “normal.” The radical desert dweller was just as moderate in his advice as the cave dweller St. Benedict was.
Now don’t get us wrong. The Gospel isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to achieve the detachment John recommends — to give away half your clothes or food. For tax collectors and soldiers, John’s advice meant giving up a sizable portion of their living. In each case, John the Baptist called people to love of others over love of self.
And maybe that’s why the first three readings explode with rejoicing today. Our God has come. He is a demanding God, but he is not an inhuman one. He’s a God who demands love.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.