Reflection for the third Sunday of Advent

by Fr Mark James OP

God will dance with shouts of joy for you 

Weddings are joyful occasions. It is no wonder that Jesus used the image of the wedding banquet as a sign for the coming reign of God. Weddings are occasions for joy and dancing. The wedding feast summed up for Jesus the God we worship. In his life and ministry, Jesus is the bringer of that joy, happiness and peace. He embodied good news. In the Gospel today, we see John the Baptist announcing the good news of the coming Messiah. John’s whole life was dedicated to preparing people for new life. John preached that it wasn’t enough just to belong to the people of Israel through the circumcision of the flesh but what was needed was circumcision of the heart too. People needed to undergo a personal change of heart and mind and a change in the way that they relate to other people if they were to experience the coming Messiah. For this reason, he emphasised repentance and conversion.

If we want to recognise the Child Jesus this Christmas, we need to be transformed from within too. We need to undergo a circumcision of the heart as well. John reminds us that this isn’t just a personal conversion but one which changes our relationships with other people too, especially those who are poor and marginalised. Even John did not fully anticipate the good news that Jesus came to proclaim.

The first reading today gives us a wonderful testament to the change we need in our lives. The good news is that our God, as revealed by Jesus, is a joyful and dancing God. The prophet Zephaniah described God among his people as a Dancing God, a jubilant and joyful God. ‘He will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival’ (Zeph 3:18). For Christian people too, the inner life of God, the life of the Trinity, is a dance of love (perichoresis).

Are we in touch with the joyful and dancing God that Zephaniah speaks about? Are we jubilant within or are we weighed down by many worries and concerns? Do we focus more on our troubles than on our blessings? Are we so focused on our own troubles that we neglect the struggles of others? Together how do we become more joyful in the Lord?

St Paul reminds us in the second reading that it is through prayer that we find the peace and joy of Christ. The Jesuits teach a prayer called the Examen. For ten or fifteen minutes each day we need to sit quietly and go over the events of the day. Firstly, we review the day and the blessings we have received. When we have called to mind all the blessings we give God thanks for his goodness to us and revel in the joy of knowing that we are blessed. Then we turn to the struggles we’ve had during the day. We see what things we did wrong, badly or neglected to do. Then we turn to God in repentance of heart seeking his forgiveness. We ask God to help to do these things better tomorrow.

This simple prayer will help us grow in awareness of God’s blessings and mercy. We will gradually grow in appreciation of the Dancing God in our lives. This is the good news that John anticipated, and that Jesus proclaimed. The Dancing God who wants to be born in us this Christmas, not just as individuals, but as families, communities and even as nations.