For a Christmas of sharing and Missionary spirit

Zephaniah  3:14-17
Psalm  Is 12:2-6
Philippians  4:4-7
Luke  3:10-18


At first sight, we are confronted by two contrasting messages: the insistent call to joy (1st and 2nd Readings) and the demanding invitation to conversion (Gospel). The contrast is only apparent, as we can gather from today’s texts. Better still, joy and conversion go hand in hand, because the Lord is the root of both: conversion to the Lord causes joy and fraternity.

John the Baptist’s words (Gospel) are harsh; they sound old-fashioned, inacceptable today: he dares to issue severe warnings to the soldiers, to the tax collectors, to all… He calls all classes of people to change their lifestyle. John showed himself in the desert, on the banks of the river Jordan “preaching a baptism of conversion for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk. 3:3). Luke reports the words of the Precursor without softening them. John shakes his listeners, calling them a “Brood of vipers”: he urges them to produce “fruit in keeping with conversion” and to produce good fruit so as not to be thrown into the fire. (Lk. 3:7-9). But which conversion, and with what kind of fruit?

Last Sunday, the call to conversion pointed first of all to a return to God (this might be called the vertical dimension of conversion), preparing the heart to receive His salvation. Today, John gives concrete and precise pointers to a conversion which touches directly relationships with others (the horizontal dimension). Luke refers to three groups of people who, moved by the prophetic rage of the Precursor, ask him “What must we do?” (vv. 10.12.14). It is a question that Luke likes, and he repeats it in other missionary conversion stories: the crowds at Pentecost, the gaoler at Philippi, Paul himself on the road to Damascus (see Acts: 2:37; 16:30; 22:10). The question shows a readiness to change radically: it is the fundamental attitude in every conversion and, at the same time, an appeal to another person who knows how to answer in God's name. Generally, we call such a person a missionary, whether it is a priest, a lay person, a sister, a teacher, a catechist...

The three groups of people who go to the Baptist are: the crowds (groups of people not always identified), the publicans (tax collectors: the hated group of collaborators with the Roman Empire), and the soldiers (people accustomed to being heavy-handed). They are groups that are often considered to be beyond redemption... The Baptist is not afraid of them, he welcomes them, gives them answers that are fitting and concrete and all of them touching on relationships with others, with one's neighbour: the sharing of clothing and food (v. 11), justice in dealings with others (v. 13) respect and mercy towards all (v. 14). They are all relationships that fall under the fifth and seventh commandment.

John goes beyond himself and his preaching, pointing towards the uplifting intervention of the Holy Spirit (v.16), who will be poured out like a baptism of fire on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Then, indeed, the Spirit will make all things new, and will renew above all the hearts of men and women, and bring together diverse peoples in the single language of love. Then indeed it will be easier to understand that conversion to Christ requires justice and compassion towards everyone, and it entails sharing with those in need. In this way John, who is the model for missionaries of all times, “proclaimed the good news to the people” (v. 18). Today the missionary, in his fidelity to Christ, is called to announce hope and solidarity. (*)

Personal adherence to Christ and the proclamation of the Good News always bring joy, as is shown in the repeated calls of Zephaniah and of Paul (1st & 2nd Readings) and other liturgical texts. First of all because God rejoices over us, renews us with His love, celebrates with us and rejoices over us with cries of joy. Hence the prophet calls out: “Have no fear; do not let your hands fall limp”, because the Lord is a powerful saviour (vv. 16-18). Paul refers insistently on the reason for the joy of the believer: the Lord is near, he is present (vv. 4-5). There is no reason for anxiety, as we can always turn to Him in prayer, which strengthens our joy (vv .5-7).

Christmas joy is true joy only if it is shared with concrete gestures in favour of those who suffer. Here is a recent concrete example. In a rural town, a Moslem family suffered the tragic loss of a woman and her baby. The parish priest asked his people to have a collection to help the father and the other children. It was an immediate, concrete and effective initiative: for a Christmas of sharing, a truly missionary one. A truly Christian Christmas! In the hearts of the faithful who share in such initiatives Jesus is truly born again. It is in this way that faith is strengthened and spread. To celebrate Christmas means to discover that the verb required for creating a new humanity is “to give”: there is no greater love than to give one’s life…; there is more joy in giving than in receiving… These are the words of the Child who is being born at Bethlehem, the gift of the Father, who has so much loved the world as to give his Son… So that the world may have life in abundance!

The Pope's words

(*)  “The contemporary world above all needs hope; the developing peoples need it, but so do those that are economically advanced. We are becoming increasingly aware that we are all on one boat and together must save each other. Seeing so much false security collapse, we realize that what we need most is a trustworthy hope. This is found in Christ alone. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he «is the same yesterday and today and for ever» (Heb 13: 8). The Lord Jesus came in the past, comes in the present and will come in the future. He embraces all the dimensions of time, because he died and rose; he is «the Living One». While he shares our human precariousness, he remains forever and offers us the stability of God himself. He is flesh like us and rock like God… We can therefore say that Jesus Christ is not only relevant to Christians, or only to believers, but to all men and women, for Christ, who is the centre of faith, is also the foundation of hope. And every human being is in need of hope”.

Benedict XVI
Angelus of 1° Sunday of Advent, 29.11.2009

In the steps of Missionaries

- 14/12: St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), Spaniard Carmelite priest, mystic and doctor of the Church, reformer of the Carmelite Order together with St. Teresa of Avila.

- 14/12: St. Nimatullah Youssef Kassab Al-Hardini (1808-1858), Lebanese Maronite priest, an ascetic man, dedicated to study and pastoral work.

- 16/12: Bl. Philip Siphong Onphitak (1907-1940), a father of a family and catechist, first martyr of Thailand. When his parish priest was expelled, he was chosen as the guide of the community and then killed at Mukdahan.

- 17/12: St. John of Matha (1154-1213), a French priest, Founder of the Trinitarian Order for the redemption of slaves.

- 18/12: International Day for Migrant Workers (UNO, 1990). 

Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, MCCJ - Comboni Missionaries (Verona)
Translated by Fr. Henry Redaelli, MCCJ
Website:  “The Word for Mission”