Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Advent - December 16, 2012 - Year C
The Year of Faith
The Christian Art of Benevolence
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:4-5)
My favorite Christmas movie is the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge unleashes a tirade against all that Christmas is. He repudiates its joy. The poor and destitute receive his scorn and their plight is of no concern of his. The exchange between Scrooge and his nephew, Fred, reveals the unfeeling, callous heart of a man long ago enticed by the deceitfulness of riches.
Here's a portion of their dialogue:
Fred: I said, A Merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!
Scrooge: Bah, humbug!
Fred: Christmas a humbug, Uncle! Surely you don't mean that!
Scrooge: Of course I mean it! Merry Christmas, indeed. What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough.
Fred: Come, Uncle. What reason have you to be dismal? You're rich enough. Ha ha!
Scrooge: BAH! Away with Merry Christmas! What's Christmas to you, but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!
Scrooge: Nephew! Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.
Fred: Keep it! But you don't keep it.
Scrooge: Let me leave it alone, then! A lot of good it has done you.
Fred: Well, there are many things from which I have benefited, even if they didn't show a profit, I dare say. Christmas among the rest. But if anything belonging to Christmas can be considered apart from the sacred source of its name and origin, I am sure I have always thought of Christmas as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time of year I know of when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and think of others as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave. And therefore, Uncle, though it has never put a scrap of silver or gold in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, "God bless it!"
I know your mail box like mine is filled this time of year with endless pleas for those with desperate needs. There are hungry kids. Others are facing winter without appropriate coats, hats, and gloves. Some elderly folks will not have enough money to keep the heat on in their homes. And then there are the innumerable requests to send surgical teams to folks who have eye problems and teeth problems. Miracles all over the globe and maybe just down the street or across town or next door are waiting to happen if we will open our hearts.
For Christians, Advent gives us an opportunity to cultivate a joyful expectation. When Christmas morning dawns in a few days we will greet it with a sense of deep meaning. On this Sunday of Advent we light the third candle. The first, second, and fourth candles are purple reminding us of our penitential preparation for Christmas. But today it's a pink candle calling us to joy. In the midst of our preparation we express a portion of the joy we anticipate having when we see the baby Jesus wrapped in our humanity and lying in a manger. We sense a nearness of the Gloria of the Angels and our hearts can hardly wait to celebrate the hope that Christmas gives us. But delayed gratification does not mean delaying in bringing the joy of Christ's love and healing to those in need among us.
That's why on this Sunday we are reminded of the importance of social justice. It is we, the followers of Christ, who are called to bring forth fruit worthy of our baptism. That means being honest in our dealings with each other. It means being generous with our resources so that what we have enough of might become enough for someone else when we are benevolent with what we have received from God's gracious blessings.
I witnessed the blessing of Christian benevolence recently. Many First Tennessee Bank employees participated in the Red Cross Blood Drive at the Customer Service Center where I work. Men and women gave the gift of life. For some it was the first time and for others it was routine. But for those on the receiving end of their generous giving it will be life saving.
The Lord is near. Paul describes the Lord being at hand. He's within touching distance of everyone of us. Jesus is that person we refuse to forgive. He's near us in that one from whom we wish to extract a pound of flesh. Forbearance is when we don't press and demand when it is in our right to do so. The art of Christian benevolence is when we let grace be our vengeance and when Christian love is our weapon of choice.
Jesus is mightier than the vindictive sword. He is more powerful than the evil that tempts us to exploit others. If we will let him into our hearts he will fill us with his joy; the joy of the Lord is our strength. Into our troubled and joyless hearts he will pour his Holy Spirit and in the Holy Spirit is our righteousness, our peace, our joy.
Let us Rejoice! The Lord is at hand! He's probably in the next person you meet who needs the healing witness of Christian charity. That person may be sitting in the pew with you today. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com