Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

John and Stella Chhan came to the United States many years ago.  They were refugees from Cambodia, where the tyrant Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge regime had murdered thousands in the killing fields.  Twenty-eight years ago, John and Stella bought Donut City, a bakery in Seal Beach, California. Every day since then, from 4:30 AM to 2:00 PM, they stood behind the counter and welcomed customers with a good word and a smile. 

Then one day the customers noticed something:  Stella wasn’t there. When they asked her husband what had happened, he told them that she had suffered an aneurysm. She thankfully survived, but she was in a nursing home recovering. John would open the bakery alone, work all day and then go to be with her in the nursing home. 

When word of Stella’s medical crisis and John’s efforts to be with her got around, their customers responded. Every day, they lined up outside the bakery at 4:30 AM. People arrived so early and bought so many donuts that by 7:30 AM, the bakery was sold out!  John could finish work early and be with his wife. She is now on the road to recovery.

In today’s gospel reading, the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” If some of them had been from Seal City, California, John might answer: “Buy donuts!”  I’m not being trite. When the people came to John for baptism, he challenged them in some very strong words.  He called them a “brood of vipers.”  He told them to produce good fruits of their repentance; and he warned them not to depend on their status as children of Abraham. 

But when the people asked what they could do to demonstrate their change of heart, John didn’t ask them to do the impossible.  Instead, he asked them to do practical things. Those who had sufficient clothes and food should share those who had none.  Tax collectors shouldn’t cheat.  Soldiers shouldn’t accept bribes or practice extortion. 

John’s advice fit each person and situation.  But it wasn’t easy to follow.  The tax collectors and soldiers depended on the extra income they received by exploiting others.  The Roman empire, in turn, depended on such exploitation for its economic and political stability. 

But John demanded that those who came to him turn away from easy money and indifference to the needs of others.  Sharing our food and clothes seems simple, but it can also be troubling.  We may worry that we will not have enough for ourselves or our families.  This is especially true in a nation like ours that seems to manufacture anxiety through advertising that tells us that we can never have enough and that our happiness depends on the things we possess. 

Turning from sin and embracing the life that God wants for us tests us and our faith. But if we trust with the prophet Zephaniah and St. Paul that God is in our midst, we do not have to be afraid.  With gratitude to God for what we have, we can also pray to God for what we need. 

As we enter these last days of Advent I pray with Paul that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” +