13 December 2011

A Christmas Carol-Scripture Style

Third Sunday of Advent
            Each year around this time, there are certain Christmas specials that air year after year: TBS always seems to have “A Christmas Story” with the kid who wants a bb gun for Christmas, but whose parent’s won’t let him get it, because he’ll shoot his eye out; CBS always seems to show all the classics: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Charlie Brown Christmas.”  ABC Family has the 25 days of Christmas, so they’re running just about every show ever made about Christmas.  And I’ve seen a few channels showing “A Christmas Carol.”  Whether it’s the 1984 version with George C. Scott or the 2009 version with Jim Carrey’s voice, or the Disney version, or the Muppet version, “A Christmas Carol” has certainly stood the test of time.  Almost any person from a certain age onward can tell you about the three spirits that visit Ebenezer Scrooge to try to get him to change.
            We hear a lot about, not about the spirit of Christmas past, present, or to come, but the Holy Spirit in our first and second readings today.  In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies the Messiah as one filled with the spirit because he is anointed by the Lord “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.”  The time of the Messiah was one where the Spirit of God, or ruach elohim, would be very active, especially in the Messiah.  But it would also be active in all of the People of God, as Joel prophesies.  Joel writes, “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind…in those days I will pour out my spirit.”  This is what St. Peter references on Pentecost, as the Spirit descends, as the proof that Jesus is the Messiah.  St. Paul even says in the second reading: “Do not quench the Spirit.”
            We also see the Spirit at work in the Gospel through St. John the Baptist.  Of course, with St. John’s fire and passion, the Jews, priests, and Levites confuse John for the Messiah.  But John responds that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the same one we heard last week, “‘the voice of one crying out in the desert, “make straight the way of the Lord.”’”  But John the Baptist is part of the sign that the fullness of time, the manifestation of the Messiah, is upon them.
            We ourselves live in this fullness of time, the time of the Kingdom of God, fully present in the Person of Jesus Christ, but not fully present yet on earth until He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.  We ourselves have received of that same spirit, the Spirit of the Lord prophesied by Isaiah and Joel.  We ourselves have the same Spirit, granted, perhaps in a different way, as St. John the Baptist so that we can prepare the way and point out the Messiah, Jesus, as he comes among us.
            We first received that gift of the Spirit at our baptism.  We received another outpouring of the Spirit at our confirmation.  And we can receive the Spirit daily; we don’t just have to wait until Pentecost to pray for a greater outpouring and recognition of the gifts of the Spirit.
            How can we tell if we’re using the gifts of the Spirit?  How can we tell if we are actualizing the potential that God has given us?  Isaiah gives us a pretty good list.  Are we bringing glad tidings to the poor: do we assist the poor with our words of blessing, rather than calling them lazy?  Do we, when we can, share our material resources with the poor, even those who might be standing with the sign at the corner of the street?  There are many who use the excuse, “Well, he’s just going to get drunk with that money.”  If that’s a serious concern, go buy a sandwich or something, and drive back to give it to him or her.  On the other hand, at the final judgment, I don’t think God will blame you for giving money to a man who was poor, even if he does use it for alcohol. 
            Are we healing the brokenhearted?  Do our words build others up, or do they tear others down?  This is something that is very easy to fall into, but so important.  I’m sure we’ve all had a time when we’ve benefited from a kind word said just at the right moment.  You never know when that moment is going to be, so if we’re building each other up, not giving false compliments but truly trying to help others with our words, then we can be that blessing to others.  St. James says in his letter, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue…his religion is vain.”
            Are we freeing the prisoners?  No, this does not mean we start attempting jailbreaks.  But we probably each know at least one person, in addition to ourselves, who are held captive by a particular sin or addiction.  Are we helping them to find freedom by helping them end the things which lead them to sin or which enable them in their addictions?  God wants us to be free in Him, not enslaved to sin.  Are we on the side of slavery or freedom?
            God has anointed us and given us the Spirit, the robe of salvation, the mantle of justice.  The Spirit is our diadem that adorns us bridegrooms, or the jewels that adorn the brides.  With that Spirit, if we use it, we can proclaim the Messiah, just like St. John the Baptist.  We are called to be the ones crying out in the desert of sin: make straight the way of the Lord.