Cathedral by Deacon Jerry Franzen
Zephaniah 3:14-18a Philippians 4:4-7 Luke 3:10-18
A fifth grade student named Howard
was behaving just as a student would
who felt insecure, unloved and pretty angry at life.
He was acting up all the time,
causing all sorts of trouble in school.
His teacher, Miss Simon, must have thought
that he was oblivious to it all,
because she regularly reminded him by declaring,
“Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school.”
Howard thought to himself,
“So tell me something I don’t already know,”
as he proceeded to live up to (or down to)
her opinion of him.
Howard was eventually promoted to the sixth grade
with the words of Miss Simon ringing in his ears,
“Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school.”
Imagine his expectations as he returned for the sixth grade
with Miss Noe as his new teacher.
On the first day of class, Miss Noe went down the roll,
called out Howard’s name,
and stopped to look him over for a moment.
Then she said, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Then she smiled and added,
“But I don’t believe a word of it.”
That moment as a fundamental turning point for Howard,
in his education and in his life.
Suddenly, and unexpectedly, someone believed in him.
Someone saw potential in him.
Miss Noe gave him special assignments
and invited him to come by her classroom after school
for extra help on reading and arithmetic.
She challenged him with higher standards.
And Howard had a hard time letting her down,
so much so that he would get so involved
in some assignments that he would stay up late
working on them.
His father wondered whether he might have been sick.
This was unusual behavior.
What made the difference between fifth grade and sixth grade?
Someone was willing to give Howard a chance.
Someone was willing to believe in him.
Someone was willing to challenge him to higher expectations.
It was all very risky,
because there was no guarantee of Miss Noe’s trust.
The first reading was from the third chapter
of the three-chapter-long book of the prophet Zephaniah.
In the first and second chapter
and the first part of the third chapter,
Zephaniah is telling the Israelites about
all of the doom and judgment that will fall on them,
because many of them have been unfaithful to God,
the typical message of a prophet.
It is two-plus chapters of punishment for the unfaithful.
Much like Howard was continually reminded by Miss Simon.
Beginning with the 14th verse of chapter three
Zephaniah tells the faithful remnant of the Israelite people
to “shout for joy,” to “sing joyfully,”
to “be glad and exult with all your heart.”
“The Lord has removed the judgment against you.”
Much like Howard was treated by Miss Noe.
Zephaniah had brought them the message that
God was not happy with them.
And now, Zephaniah was proclaiming God’s mercy toward them,
a reason to shout for joy.
Howard certainly felt joy with his new teacher,
even though he may not have shouted it or sang it aloud.
The judgment of being the school’s worst student
had been lifted from him,
as the judgment had been lifted from Israel.
In the second reading,
Paul tells the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always,”
so that “their kindness should be known to all.”
Miss Noe had found a way to let the true Howard be known.
Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice,”
“Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Emmanuel means “God with us”
Paul was so emphatic about it that he told the Philippians,
“I say it again, rejoice!”
For us, it’s “Rejoice because the Lord is near,”
our celebration of Christmas is almost here.
Rejoice because Jesus is coming.
But Jesus is always with us,
no more so than at every celebration
of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
There is always a tension with Advent;
we are anticipating the coming of Jesus
who has already come, who comes to us always
and will come again in glory.
Maybe it will help if we put LESS emphasis
on which coming we are celebrating
and more emphasis on anticipating and celebrating
what we can expect to happen as a result of his coming.
Are we not like Howard, sometimes our anger gets out of control?
We may not be the worst behaved kid in the school,
but we all struggle with our behavior, our sin.
It could be just a
a tailgater “bugging” us on the highway that angers us,
or a telemarketer calling during the dinner hour,
or a coupon clipper slowing the line at the supermarket.
Sometimes we get a little too full of ourselves
and let the situation get the best of our behavior.
It’s easy to show our lack of patience.
We may give in to insecurity
when an employer begins some job reductions,
or we may feel unloved when a teenage son or daughter
avoids giving us an honest answer
or a spouse seems to care too little.
It’s easy to get caught up in yourself and to not understand others.
We may just get angry with life
when situations seem to conspire against us
and we are robbed of enthusiasm and the zest for life.
We may just resign ourselves to acting out our anger
and frustrations like Howard
as a way of our seeming to get some satisfaction
in the form revenge.
But St. Paul says that our behavior is to be different;
we are to rejoice! Why?
Because we all have our Miss Noe,
one who loves us, one who believes in us,
one who will pull us out of whatever hole
we may have dug for ourselves.
God believes in us so fully that he sent his Son to be among us.
He is able to set aside all that he has heard about us,
because his Son is among us.
And, like Miss Noe, he is always there to give us another chance
and to challenge us to higher standards.
God’s infinite mercy is always there for us. All we must do is seek it.
Last week the deanery Penance Service was held here
on Thursday evening.
If you were not able to attend,
the sacrament of Penance will be available next Saturday
from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm here at the Cathedral.
Take advantage of this sacrament during this Advent season.
This is why we are to rejoice,
because God has taken us under his wing
by sending his Son into the world.
Don’t act out of your impatience, out of your frustrations
or out of your insecurities.
Paul said that we should rejoice
so that our kindness might show through.
So, let us rejoice!
For no matter how bad it has been,
no matter whether we have been singled out
as the worst behaved in the world,
in the school, in our place of employment or in our family,
no matter how bad we may think we have been,
there is someone who believes in us, sees the potential in us,
has special projects for each of us,
and will challenge us to higher standards.
If we truly let God’s Son, Jesus, come into our lives,
then we will realize that God has such great faith in us
that he, like Miss Noe, has already said,
“I don’t believe a word of it. Here I’m sending you my Son.”
For that, again, I say, Let us rejoice!!