In 1955, the very popular TV show the Honeymooners had an episode that was titled “twas the night before Christmas”. The show opens on the night before Christmas with Ralph and Alice hiding their presents for each other in their small apartment. As the evening progresses people come and go dropping off gifts and exchanging good wishes for the holiday season. Unfortunately, one of the neighbors ends up giving Alice the same gift that Ralph had bought for her. So, Ralph is stuck, he spent all of money that he had saved on a new bowling ball for himself, and he had nothing left to buy another gift with. Without hesitation Ralph take his new bowling ball down to the pawn shop and sells it in order to get enough money to buy Alice wonderful a gift.
Christmas morning rolls around and they get ready to exchange gifts. Alice insists that Ralph opens his first and as you have probably already have guessed, she has purchased him a beautiful bag for his new bowling ball. Alice asks that Ralph get the bowling ball so that she can see how it looks in the new bag, to which Ralph has to explain what had happened. Alice tells him that he didn’t have to do that because they love each other and that is the only thing that matters but Ralph insists that she open his gift because he is sure that when she sees it she will absolutely love it. Alice opens the box, looks in and immediately says how much she just loves it, to which Ralph explains that it is not only beautiful, but it is practical as well. He explains that it is not only a statue of Napoleon but an orange juice squeezer as well. See, you put the oranges on his head and orange juice comes out of his ears.
This is, of course a wonderful retelling of the famous O Henry short story The Gift of the Magi. It is a great story for this time of the year whether the gifts are hair combs and pocket watch chains or bowling balls and orange juice squeezers. The problem is who has time for all that sentiment these days? I mean there are twelve shopping days left until Christmas morning and unless my wife wants to get a Napoleon orange juice squeezer, I need to find time to get to a store.
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Lent. Back when the church celebrated the 40 days leading up to Christmas the way that we celebrate the 40 days leading up to Easter, the mini lent of Advent came with fasting, sacrifice, and penitential discipline. Much like the third Sunday of lent, the third Sunday of advent was a time to take a pause from all of that suffering stuff and remember to give thanks and rejoice because the coming of our lord is so close at hand.
Today’s second reading starts with “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”. If you recall that was also the entrance antiphon; “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” The Latin version of that antiphon begins with “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
That is where this Sunday gets its name, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete Rejoice, Rejoice Gaudate, so that has to be the word for the day. But what is up with all the rejoicing, didn’t I just mention that we only have 12 days of shopping left? We still have to get our tree and if I don’t get the lights untangled soon, I’m just going to hang a few flashlights in our front windows and call it good.
So somewhere between the selling of my bowling ball, rejoicing and hanging flashlights in my front window I am supposed to find the true meaning of the Advent season. What are we supposed to do?
In the gospel the crowds are asking John the Baptist that same question. And ‘He said to them in reply, “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise”.
Years ago, there was an NPR radio show called Car Talk? With two brothers, Tom and Ray Magliozzi? They called themselves Click and Clack the Tap-it brothers and their show was a car help / repair call in show. It was hilarious, people would call in with automotive problems and they would offer suggestions on car repairs, life repairs, marital repairs … just about anything repairs. And sometimes they would actually help with the original problem.
There was one section of the show that they called “stump the chumps”. People would call in with a car issue. They would describe noises, explain symptoms, outline the car’s history and Tom and Ray would have to diagnose the problem and suggest a remedy. Some weeks later the people would be asked to call back to explain if the advice was helpful and if the repair worked. The funny thing about the show was that it was never about the questions, or even the answers. It was about the conversation.
The questions asked of John today were not about the answers. Did they really need for someone to tell them to give to those that had none? Did they really need to be told that they should stop cheating, or lying, stealing? That was not their question. Was there ever a doubt that Ralph would hock his prized new bowling ball or that Alice would love the napoleon orange squeezer?
We really do know that the time of Advent has nothing to do with shopping for presents. That is like John saying that “I am baptizing you with water”, he may as well as have been using the Norelco shower massager. What the crowd wanted to hear from him was that “One mightier that I is coming”. They wanted to hear, we want to hear, that the one that is to come “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.
So, maybe Rejoice is the right word after all. “Shout for Joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exalt with all your heart, o daughter Jerusalem!
To paraphrase from the gospel of Luke; for “next Saturday” in the city of David there “will be” been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there “will appear” with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace good will towards men.”
The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.”
Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people.”
December 12, 2021
December 12, 2021