Scriptures: Isaiah 61:1-10, Luke 1:46-54 (Mary’s Magnificat), 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice
Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice. Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice.
The song can go on and on. The words are from the second reading for today.
This week I see a connection with steps 7, 8 & 9 of the process of walking the 12 Steps.
It has been said that we are called by God to do good and avoid evil. In the reading today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he writes, "test everything, retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil."
In the Responsorial Psalm, which is Mary’s great prayer of praise and rejoicing, the Magnificat, she thanks God for going even further. God not only does good, God resists and even curses evil. "You have filled the hungry with good things, and the rich you have sent away empty. You have cast down the mighty from their thrones, and have lifted up the lowly." Those are strong words.
Did you know that it was forbidden to pray Mary’s prayer in public in some countries in Central America during the 1980”s? The oppressive dictators knew that it applied to them.
The Gospel Jesus preached and lived calls us to do good and to actively resist evil. You may have heard me say before [sometimes I say it on retreat], "I’m going to teach you how to curse – the way Jesus cursed."
What Jesus did was to take the curses from his own Scripture and transform them from prayers that cursed individual people or tribes or families to prayers that cursed the evil they were doing while calling the people to repent and be healed and forgiven. We still have a long way to go in learning to do that.
We tend to either avoid the unpleasant experience of confronting evil, whether in ourselves or in the situations where we live and work. Or, we condemn others as sinners or enemies, as if we had no sin to repent of, rather than imitating Jesus who attacked the evil without condemning the evildoers. Those are some of our shortcomings.
The 7th Step reads: "Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings."
To curse the way Jesus and his mother cursed calls for deep humility – because I need to look at myself first and curse the wrong I have done without cursing myself. It also calls for trust in a God who not only can but passionately desires to forgive our sin and heal our hearts. That is truly a reason for rejoicing.
The next two steps move from readiness and humility to action.
The 8th Step: "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all."
The 9th Step: "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."
In the Gospel for today, John the Baptist comes to testify to the light. He comes in humility, pointing to the one who will come after him. He invites those who come to be dunked in the river to let their sin come to light, to admit that they have hurt not just people in general, but specific people, especially the poor. He invites them, in a way, to make a list of all persons they had harmed, and be willing to make amends when possible.
I love the image St. Augustine uses to describe John the Baptist, "John is the voice, Jesus is the word which he makes audible." So we are called to be no more, and no less than the voice speaking or singing the Word who is Christ.
I knew a man who was a prophet like John for me.
His name was Jay, and he was a man who was always aware that God was with him.
He was a successful businessman who always made Jesus the model for how to do business.
He was a leader in the charismatic renewal, who kept calling people back to prayer that
put God at the center.
He had a beautiful speaking voice, but was not crushed when he contracted cancer of the throat and could barely speak, because the message was always more important than the messenger. He was joyful when I visited him, even though he could do less and less. He did not identify himself with what he could or could not do, even in religious matters. He was a leader in the full Gospel Businessmen’s movement, and in his parish church, but his truth was not always welcomed.
He was not afraid to gently confront charismatics or pastors, or me when business or self concern or personal agendas got in the way of living joyfully in the presence of God. I found my visits with him to be a blessing and a challenge – he was a model to me of someone who lived like John the Baptist – knowing that he was not the messiah, but always pointing to the one Lord.
I always left those visits with joy, and energy to be more like John the Baptist myself.
Finally, in the first reading we hear the first sermon Jesus preached, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, … The Spirit has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners."
Later on in the same passage Isaiah says, "you yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord, ministers of our God you shall be called." And the reading ends with rejoicing, because God "has wrapped me in a mantle of justice," and will make "justice and praise spring up before all the nations."
It is clear from the Gospel and from Isaiah’s preaching that it is not enough to make a list, we have to act – we are called to "make amends" prudently, but really. My friend Jay knew that. His faith did not stay in his head or in a book or journal.
As St. Francis said, we are all called to "preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words." Sometimes I think we spend too much time talking about Jesus and not enough preaching what Jesus preached, both in word and in action.
Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist lived and preached what Jesus preached. We are called to do the same and given the power to do it by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
What Jesus preached has been set to music in many ways, this is one of them:
♫ God has chosen me, God has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.|
God has chosen me, God has chosen me, to bring new sight to those searching for light:
God has chosen me, chosen me:
and to tell the world that God’s kingdom is near,
To remove oppression and break down fear, yes,
God’s time is near, God’s time is near God’s time is near, God’s time is near.