Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear,
O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And the crowds asked John, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John , whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
Today's liturgy is full of comfort and joy. In Latin today was called "Gaudete Sunday" (gaudete meaning rejoice.) The liturgy bids us not to worry, for the Lord is near. And if we want the peace of God in our hearts, that peace will be ours, if we trustfully ask God for it. St Paul says, "There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving". He tells us not to wait until after God has granted our requests before saying thanks. Even as we ask, we should be giving thanks. One of the things to thank God for at the end of this year is all the good done by so many good people in our time.
Wherever there is evil, God will see that brave, resolute souls rise up to combat it. Such was the work done by St John the Baptist, as described by St Luke. People were prepared to walk all the way from Jerusalem down to near Jericho in the deep Jordan valley, on the edge of the desert -- all of fifteen miles each way -- in order to see John, this charismatic figure living as an ascetic in the desert around the Dead Sea. Having heard him, many stayed to be baptised by him. But they were full of the uncertainty that can surface in all of us if we take time to cast a critical eye on the kind of life we are leading.
"What must we do?" they asked him; and John spelled out his answer in no uncertain terms. While their request showed their willingness to change, it also showed that they were lacking in clear insight about what is right human behaviour. "Love and do what you will," was to be the motto of St Augustine, meaning that if people have total inner commitment to God, then they will be incapable of doing wrong, they will know instinctively what is right from the promptings of the Spirit within them.
John the Baptist tried to change his listeners' hearts by telling them not to be grasping, not to take from others more than a just return for services rendered, but rather to help those in need. "If anyone has two cloaks, he must share with the man who has none." "Give your blood," the ancient monks in the desert used to say, "and you will possess the Spirit." The society to which John was addressing himself -- as indeed Jesus did later -- was to collapse because of its lack of spiritual depth, its over concern with externals, as evidenced by the Pharisees, its pursuit of a narrow-minded nationalism, as seen in the Zealots who resorted to violence and assassination in their hatred of the Romans.
The greatest danger to the continuation of any society becomes a reality when most of its members become motivated by selfish concerns, greed and covetousness. The message that our own society invariably highlights is not, alas, that of sharing cloaks, but of wearing outfits that are better, more comfortable, more in keeping with the size of one's pay differential. The sad thing is that all this unbridled seeking for earthly comforts, this concern with the cares of life, pulls us further and further away from the yearning for himself, that God has placed within all of us. It turns us away from the things of the Spirit, and from the pursuit of religious idealism. Prayerfully then, and in the presence of God, let us give thanks to the Father in this Mass, for the gift of his divine Son, who in its celebration makes us one with himself. Let us ask for the peace of God, as Sacred scripture urges us, for that abiding peace which is so much greater than we can ever understand, so much greater than anything this world can ever offer us. And we can be assured that for all who faithfully do this the reward will be everlasting.