Third Week of Advent

MERCIFUL JOY

By Fr. Chris Valka, CSB

One of my great frustrations with many churches is the judgment that many people associate with them. Of course, in some cases, it is because people feel guilty for what they have done (or have not done). However, there are, sadly, too many cases when those representing Jesus have not been able to see the world beyond their pointing finger.

Neither represents the Church I love. Our readings today are very clear: there is no place for judgment in the Church. No matter what you have done, no matter who you are, this – here and now – should be an encounter with joy. Not just a surface level feeling, but a warmth deep inside that reminds you that you are loved unconditionally.

Of course, when most people go to church, this is probably not the description they would offer about their experience, but both Zephaniah and John offer explicit challenges to the establishment and way things were typically done.

For Zephaniah, who wrote just before the Babylonian Exile, Israel was turning from the worship of the One God, back to a polytheistic worship. Just before the passage we hear today, the Lord promises to purge and purify the city and they will return the Lord. And what is so amazing about this passage from Zephaniah is that the Lord says that despite all that you have done, turning against me and worshipping false Gods, there will be no judgment against you.

Even when we turn away, God invites us not to be discouraged but to allow God to rejoice over the fact that we are redeemable. So you see, God’s purpose is not judgment, but joy. It brings me to one of my favourite questions – one that is so appropriate as we begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy: What are the implications of believing in an all-knowing, all compassionate God? Perhaps in the end, mercy trumps all. And if there is judgment. . . then what we place on ourselves may be worse than that of God. Talk about a reason to be joyful!

Sunday’s Readings:

Zephaniah 3.14-18a

Philippians 4.4-7

Luke 3.10-18