Let us start this week not with the Scriptures but with the OXFORD CONCISE DICTIONARY! To be gracious includes the aspect of being indulgent and beneficent to others, kindly and courteous. To be hospitable means giving or disposed to give welcome. See how splendidly both these meanings describe God-in-Christs outreach to us.
Now we have to ask ourselves how each word describes our attitude to the Lord, and to others? In addition we need to recognise how relevant this all is during these weeks of Advent.
So, let us reflect on some aspects of this Sundays four Scripture readings:
ZEPHANIAH3: 14 – 18a
PSALM Isaiah 12: 4 – 6
PHILIPPIANS4: 4 – 7
LUKE3: 10 – 18
Once again, Zephaniah reminds us of the need for us to be JOYFUL. Here we should not presume that we need to be filled with Christmas cheer and all the Ho! Ho! Ho! The prophet repeats the “sing aloud” from last week, and we should think about being relaxed, and not allowing ourselves to be pressurised.
“The Lord your God is in your midst.” This is what we need to bear in mind. Jesus was born amongst us, and remains with us. Have we lost this sense of his presence – his graciousness and available hospitality?
If so, then Advent provides an excellent opportunity for us to capture the central fact of the Incarnation which is splendidly expressed by Saint Joh in the opening chapter of his version of the Gospel. “So the Word became flesh; he came to dwell among us.” (verse 14) However, John – a little earlier speaks about the need for us to “receive” (be hospitable to) and “yield” (be gracious) to this fact. In this context our Psalm gives renewed impetus.
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid.
….. for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
In the New Testament extract, Saint Paul emphasises the need for us to pursue a sense of joy: “rejoice in the Lord always.” I believe it is extremely valuable for us to focus on being light-hearted, gracious with ourselves and with others. It is not especially helpful if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by all the Advent hype. Further we must be wary of becoming a part of that hype by – often unintentionally – placing undue pressures on others, and having unrealistic expectations of them. This can easily happen even in our own homes.
Then, do not overlook Pauls admonition: “let all people know your forbearance.” What a lovely word is forbearance! It means patient self control. Here I have to watch myself – inasmuch as I have an allergy to the ho! ho person. I become all prickly in the face of organised joy ….. you will be happy – NOW! My initial reaction (I must learn to respond!?) is to become deliberately obnoxious! Oh dear! I must remember that the Lord is our midst, and – as a result – be a great deal more forbearing. Of course, if I translate this it means to become both gracious and hospitable – even to the ho! ho! I will do my best.
In all of this, Sundays Gospel reading makes, among a number of others, two points well worth reflecting on – and against which we could make a profitable self-evaluation.
Firstly, in answer to the question “what then shall we do” the Baptist gives a pithy response: do what you are supposed to but do it as well as possible and without any sort of private agendas. However, in the doing of this we need to be content. In other words, we need to be comfortable with what is asked of us – and with our manner of responding. No good taking on more than we can chew, and then becoming discontent.
Secondly, even in the face of “the multitudes” (read, pressure from others!) John the Baptist remains focused on the coming of Jesus Christ. This was the good news he preached.
I add a little postscript – the “winnowing fork” which clears the threshing floor and puts the chaff well to the side. We all need to use our winnowing fork – clear the floor of unessentials, and get rid of the chaff which can become so irritating. If allowed to gather, it leads us to lose the plot of Advent.