Jesus calls out the head honchos in the Gospel passage. He gives them a parable with two sons in it. One son says he'll do it and doesn't. Another says he won't, but later does. He wants to know which one of those sons did what the father wanted him to do. The one who did what he asked of him, even though he said he wouldn't. John the Baptist had come to them preaching repentance, a way of life. They didn't listen to him. Even when the people that most Jews of the time thought were least likely to hear the voice of God began changing their lives, began following Jesus, the chief priests and elders kept on in their obstinacy. They who had given an oath to God, they who had studied the law to see what God asked of them, they who knew the Scripture in and out... had said "Yes we will do" and then did not. Those who had sinned, had fallen away from God... had initially said No to religious life... turned their hearts to God and were being saved.
How many times have you and I turned our back on our promise to God? We have given an oath, a promise to God. Some of us have done so at Baptism. Others at confirmation. Some have received an Altar call in some church or another.. some of you might have simply prayed a sinner's prayer.. all of these are a promise.. to try and live the Gospel. To us Catholics, it's a promise to live the Gospel of the Apostles.. as handed on through their disciples to the Church. That's a serious oath. A serious promise. How many times have we failed to live it? How many times have we said "yes" only to then not do. It's not too late... to be the one who initially said no, the one who wasn't doing.. and then turned and did it anyway.
The first reading and the Psalm remind me of Saint Francis and his way. My wife and kids kind of roll their eyes at me when I begin talking about Saint Francis. I'm passionate for his message, for the way he lived the Gospel. I get excited when I speak of him. I feel the urge every day to be more like him, because I feel that Saint Francis truly lived the Gospel the way Jesus challenges us to do so. In being more like him, I feel I will be more like Christ. That's a lofty goal. One I am likely not worthy of.
In the reading from Zephaniah we see the prophecy of the day when Jesus was to be born, and an image of the day when Jesus will come again. God tells his people that on that day they will not need to be ashamed of their sins, their failures... their initial no... He says:
For then will I remove from your midst
the proud braggarts,
And you shall no longer exalt yourself
on my holy mountain.
But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
Nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue
He says that the people of God will be humble and lowly. That's a hard calling. Society tells us to be the opposite. To be proud. To build ourselves up. Rich. Wealthy. Powerful. They shall be humble. Lowly. Honest. That is our goal. That was how Saint Francis lived his life. More over, that is how Jesus Christ lived his earthly ministry as well. Then the Church in her wisdom ties this message to the responsorial Psalm,
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
During this time of Advent it is time to look back on our lives. When we are going out to have lavish dinners, filled with presents and gifts, drinking and reveling... remember all of this can be good and lovely. We cannot forget though the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely. That brings me to a story I read last night about Saint Francis. (Rolling your eyes and huffing yet?) His monks had set up a feast for them around a holiday. They had obtained (borrowed?) fine dishes, a table cloth, lots of food. They had spent time organizing this meal. It was full of small excesses, things you and I wouldn't even thing were fancy. To those who lived the lives of Saint Francis friar's minor... they were extravagant. Saint Francis came into the room where they had set a place for him at the head of the table, and he walked to the fire place. He took out a spoon that had been dropped in the ashes, a beaten and poor spoon... he took the hat of a beggar and placed it on his head and sat down in the dirt and grime of the floor. He ate his dinner as the poor.. as the ones who were being forgotten.. as the poor Christ might have done.
It's so easy to forget them isn't it? Even those monks who lived a life of the poor forgot the poor for a moment. They were ready to sit and eat at their fancy table. Francis did not want to forget, so he made a tangible reminder. He embraced poverty in a radical way that challenged us. As you prepare for your own celebrations, don't forget them. We still have people starving in our own streets. We have men and women in nursing homes that have been forgotten. That have no visitors. We have poor families that will have no gifts for their kids.. fighting to keep their homes, fighting to keep their lives. We have refugees from other countries. How many of those are forgotten already? How many have dismissed them completely? They have been made out as terrorists.. as them... they.. the enemy. Sure some of them might be bad people.. some of them are widows.. orphans.
We've made a promise. We have an option this Christmas. We can say yes, and mean it. We can say no.. and change our mind and do it. Or we can say yes, and do it. I vote yes.. do it. As Shia Labeouf would say, "Go ahead. Just do it!" Consider ways that you can keep Christ in Christmas. Not just the word. Not just the tree and gifts. Not just the nativity scene, though all of these are good things. Keep the entire Christ in Christmas.. in each of the people out there in need. Remember, whatever you do for the least of these.. you do for Him. Find a way that you can give a gift to someone in need. Invite someone to Church that hasn't gone in a long time. Tell someone you are on the way to a communal penance service, and if they want to go they can ride with you. Find someone you haven't checked on... reach out to them. Look in on the elderly, the home bound, the bid ridden. Invite someone to Christmas dinner that doesn't have a family anymore. Give a hug. Feed someone.
Remember this list?
The Corporal Works of Mercy
That's a real good place to start. It's the year of Mercy. It's Advent. Let's get started! The Blessed Virgin Mary gave an unconditional yes to God.. no buts.. not ifs... Is your Yes unconditional? If not, like the Son in the story.. we've said No... but it's not too late to change our mind, and go do what the Father has asked of us.
His servant and yours,