Third Sunday of Advent – C

This is my second visit to Tzaneen in as many weeks.  Last week I was here for the funeral of Fr. Pat Galvin.  He was a good friend and a great missionary.  I always left his company feeling refreshed.  He had a great gift for languages and was full of ideas. A certain Sr. Carmel told us that when she first began working in St. Scholastica she was floundering.  But then she had a chat with Pat and she still remembers his advice very well.  ‘If you expect every piece of paper to be in the right place and every schedule you arrange to flow perfectly, then you might as well pack your bags and go home.’  That settled things for her. 

Pat’s advice still comes in handy today.  A line from the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to be saying the same thing. He wrote “there is a crack in everything God made.” Well that includes you and me. I hope I don’t sound too uncomplimentary if I say that we are all a bit cracked! That flaw – reveals itself in our incompleteness, our brokenness, our sin, in the dysfunction in ourselves, in our families and communities, in the church, the country and the world. Mostly we get away with our flaws and just learn to live with them.  Sometimes a flaw can have very serious consequences, like the pilot who ran out of fuel at 9,000 feet and crashed in South America a few weeks ago.

Today is Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete means rejoice and you might wonder what is there to rejoice in if we are all a bit cracked and incomplete.  Well, Leonard Cohen took up Emerson’s line and changed it a little.  ‘There’s a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in.’  And therein lies the saving grace. These fault lines are not necessarily a bad thing, because that’s where the light, the help from outside, can seep in and transform us.  This was how the Israelites in exile were renewed and reconciled with their homeland.  They had plunged from hero to zero and were now in a bad way in captivity.  But in admitting their failures they were open to help from outside and therefore rejoiced in the prophet’s promise of salvation.

In like manner John the Baptist knew all too well that something is terribly wrong with the world (how little things have changed) and he came out to alert people that One was coming who could fix it. So he warns his people to be prepared, be ready. For the Baptist that coming seemed very near.  So near that those who delay and make no preparation are in for a roasting – they won’t know what hit them.  This Messiah would cleanse the Temple and deal with the enemies of God and of justice.

John was right about the Messiah coming, but not so right about the kind of Messiah that would come.  He understood the Messiah to come with vengeance and launch a scorched earth policy, sweeping away all those who are unprepared.  But Jesus had a very different attitude, one of welcome and compassion for everyone and John is scandalised by it. ‘Are you the one who is to come’, he asks, ‘or must we wait for someone else?’ The Baptist failed to see that there is a crack in everything God has made and that this fault line was the opportunity for God to step in and fix everything free of charge. It is our weakness and sin that evokes divine compassion and forgiveness. Such a wonder was too much for John!

Not so long ago a man stood at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin.  He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.  It was rush hour and thousands of people went through the station at that time.  In the 45 minutes that he played only six people stopped and stayed for a while.  About twenty gave him money.  He collected $32.00.  When he finished playing and silence took over no one noticed it.  No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before this he sold out at a theatre in Boston and the seats averaged $100.  This is a real story.  Just go to YouTube and type in ‘Joshua Bell subway’ and you’ll see it for yourself. It was an experiment by the Washington Post to see how and what people perceive in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour.  The answer, it seems, is very little?  And it raises the question as to how much do we perceive beauty in daily life? There are miracles by the thousand happening in our lives everyday but how often do we stop to appreciate them?  Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context?  I’m sure that all those people that rushed by Joshua Bell are a bit like ourselves.  They too have their fault lines and perhaps are rushing in an attempt to fix them.  Meanwhile light and beauty are there before them, if only they could allow it to seep in.

Gaudete Sunday is there to remind us that the birth of Jesus is a cause for real joy.  There are two weeks left in Advent and many of us are very busy rushing around and getting ready for Christmas. We put in so much effort, time, money and energy in trying to ensure that we and more importantly, those we love and care about, will have the best Christmas possible.  But please let us not get caught up in the busyness of these weeks to the extent of missing out on all those opportunities for real joy and celebration particularly with those we love.  Some of the important things in life cannot be valued in a monetary way.  Advent and Christmas are the best times of the year to recognise and celebrate the most important things in our lives.  St. Paul could boast of his weakness because he realised that when he was weak then he was strong – thanks to the power of the risen Christ.  May we rejoice in our weakness, in our fault lines, so that the light of Christmas will seep into our hearts and transform us.

Sunday, 11 December 2016


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