What Should We Do?

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

“What should we do?” (Luke 3: 10, 12, 14).

In the gospel for December 12th, the Third Sunday of Advent, this rather vital and perennially relevant question is posed three times. The people are all crowding around John the Baptist; clearly something big is up.

The world is changing around them, and an air of expectancy and excitement surrounds this mysterious figure who has appeared among them preaching repentance and baptism. And so, they all want to know the obvious: what should we do?

So it is with us. Our world continues its not-so-merry way as we wrap up 2021, with changes and crises and general uncertainty and angst on all sides. We might not have a great air of expectancy and excitement, but we too can see clearly that something big is up.

Well, what should we do? In John’s time, the preparation was for the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Biggest of the big events, right?

In our time we are preparing for … well, you tell me. As I frequently remind my directees, my poustinia did not come equipped with a crystal ball (nor would I use it if it had, such things being forbidden!), and I am no prophet.

I think many people have a strong feeling that our world is speeding towards some kind of massive change. For better? For worse? For worst of all? Towards something anyhow.

John’s advice to the people was actually pretty pedestrian stuff: be good to the poor (v. 11), be honest in your dealings (v. 13), and don’t be a jerk (v. 14—I’m paraphrasing here).

Well, that’s a pretty good place to start. We sometimes think getting ready—whether it is for the coming of Christ in time or at the end of time, or for some cataclysm on a global scale, or for the intimate personal cataclysm each of us faces of our personal death—is somehow a matter of scurrying around making all sorts of “preparations” for whatever is upon us.

You know what I mean: storing up canned goods, batteries, bottled water, and all that. Possibly heavy firearms, if you are inclined that way. (I suspect most Restoration readers aren’t).

Or furiously reading the signs of the times—seeking out this truth-telling website or that whistle-blowing video, listening fervently to this visionary prophet or that well-placed person who has the “inside scoop” on who is going to let us know exactly what’s going to happen next.

I guess at least some of that stuff might have some value, although to tell you the truth, I think less and less of it as I go along. The gospel version of being “ready” for what’s coming seems a bit different, don’t you think?

Care for the poor: Well, the poor come in a lot of varieties these days. COVID has been brutally hard for so many people, whether economically, mentally, or spiritually. So many people are a lot poorer than they were two years ago, one way or another. Can you care for them?

John specifies that if you have two cloaks, give one away to someone with none. Sounds like a plan. Or at least, a basic indication of how we are to live in a time when big things are afoot. It’s not a time to hoard, but to share.

If you don’t have extra money, how about time? Or a kind word? Or something, anyhow.

Be honest in your dealings: He’s talking to the tax collectors here, telling them not to gouge the people they were collecting from. But really, this calls us to a deep commitment to the truth, to being honest in our words, our deeds, (and in our finances of course).

Our time seems to be one where truth is fragile, fleeting, where spin and disinformation seem to abound on all sides (and yes, I emphasize, all sides), where the main purpose of language so often seems to be to manipulate and control, not to convey truth in humility and simplicity of heart.

What to do? Be honest. At the very least, reject lies wherever you see them, even if they are in service of a position you believe to be the right one. Truth is not served by lies, and cannot be.

Don’t be a jerk: I paraphrase it like this on purpose, of course. John is talking to the Roman soldiers, telling them not to rough people up and shake them down and generally to act like men of good character and integrity.

But I think we who are not (for the most part) Roman soldiers can well hear this advice for ourselves. The world is increasingly fractious, polarized, divided into seeming camps of opposing ideologies. So many people are so angry about so many different things!

Right now, for example, families are being split apart by questions around the vaccination. Friendships are being ruined; church communities split apart. The very fabric of social peace and order is ripping apart under the emotional tension of our times.

To all of which I say, don’t let it. It’s simple, actually. “Oh the vaccine issue is very divisive.” No, it’s not. “Politics is so divisive right now.” No, it’s not. Not if you decide the relationship with the other person is more important to you than whether you agree with them or (more to the point) they agree with you. It only divides us if we choose that it will; it really is that simple.

We can always choose to respect the other person. We can always choose to be kind, even though we think they are quite wrong. We can always choose to keep our temper and maybe even keep quiet once in a while. The whole world does not need my opinion on full blast all the time! We can always choose to not be a jerk.

All of which is to say, we can always choose to love. And that, my brothers and sisters, is how we get ready and stay ready for whatever is coming around the corner.

It might be Jesus, coming in glory to wrap the whole show up. It might be social-political-economic collapse on a scale we have never seen. It may be plague, fire, flood, war, death itself—the whole horsemen of the apocalypse business.

Or it may be no such thing and the world might right itself and go on spinning in its usual fashion—not so bad, not so good, just the world as we know it. Like I say… no crystal balls here.

It might be Jesus, though…

Well, no “might” about it on that one. Jesus is coming, not only at the end of time, and not only at special feasts like Christmas.

Jesus is coming, in that poor one we are to care for, in that difficult one we are to love, in that one we have (wrongly) decided is our “enemy.”

Jesus is coming, and the one, only way to be ready to receive him is to be loving in all situations, all circumstances, to all people, without reservation, condition, or limit.

What should we do? That’s what we should do.