(3rd Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18)
In some respects, the most important words spoken by the Beautiful Lady of La Salette were the first: “Come closer, children, don’t be afraid.” Without these, the rest of her message would never have been heard.
We love such assurances, because we need them. They abound in today’s Scriptures. Zephaniah: “Fear not... be not discouraged.” St. Paul: “Have no anxiety at all.” And our responsorial psalm, which is not from the Book of Psalms but from Isaiah 12: “I am confident and unafraid.”
In the Gospel John the Baptist encourages his listeners to be generous in sharing, to avoid greed, to be honest, to be satisfied with what they have. These are excellent ways to reduce stress and anxiety in life.
But then comes the shock. The Baptist adopts a more ominous tone in preaching about the one who is to come after him. “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Luke then concludes, “Exhorting them in many other ways, he [John] preached good news to the people.” The Good News is not always pleasant news.
Any public speaker knows that you need to find diverse ways to reach people. The more diverse the audience—adults, teens and children, various cultures or levels of education, etc.—the more difficult that task is. There needs to be something for everyone.
The Blessed Virgin understood this. First she had to establish that she is on our side (“Don’t be afraid... How long a time I have suffered for you...”), and then she was free to say other things her people needed to hear. Some would respond more to her warnings, others to her promises, others again to her tears, or her concern for their well-being.
We often point out that Mary’s “great news” is like the “Good News,” not only in its content but even its style. Both can be demanding, even harsh to certain ears. Both confront us with choices.
None of this means we need to live in fear. Whether the call comes to us from the Scriptures or from La Salette, we can be confident and unafraid.