Do Not Complain

(Homily for Third Sunday of Advent, Year A)

Bottom line: We can replace complaining with rejoicing; St. John shows us how.

A pastor once received a package in the mail. When he opened it, it contained a book. The title surprised him: "A Complaint Free World." The subtitle said, "How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted." He asked myself: Is someone trying to tell me something?

Along with the book they had one of those rubber wrist bands. You are supposed to put it on one wrist and anytime you complain or make a negative comment, take the band off one wrist and put in on the other. He thought that, if he did, his wrists would be raw by the end of the day. They even suggested that priests and ministers buy "stop complaining" wrist bands for everyone in their congregation. Well, now, that sounded tempting. But he didn't go that far.

Still, the book had a good point. We waste a lot of time and energy complaining. Usually our criticizing does no good. Instead of doing something positive, we complain to the wrong person about the wrong thing at the wrong time. And our complaints almost always involve a negative judgment on someone else - or some group of people. No wonder St. James tells us today: "Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged."

There is something all of us we can do to reduce complaining. One of the big causes of negativism is envy. I see a person who has something I want and I envy him. But maybe instead of focusing on the guy who has more, I could think about the person who has less.

No matter what difficulties and problems you and I may have, there is someone worse off, who might need our help. I heard about a man who lost his job. He was so shattered that he went to see a close friend. When he got to his friend's house, however, his friend told him that he had received some terrible news: His friend's wife had been diagnosed with cancer. All of a sudden, his unemployment seemed small by comparison. Instead of talking about his own problem, he did his best to console his friend.

Very few people have had it so bad as the man we heard about in today's Gospel. King Herod had arrested John the Baptist and thrown him into jail. Now, in those days, prisons were nothing like today. They had no television or reading libraries. Prisoners did not get an hour to exercise in fresh air. They didn't have human rights advocates to defend them. On the contrary, the guards did all they could to treat prisoners cruelly and to make their lives as miserable as possible.

But John did not focus his attention on those abuses. When his followers bribed the guards to get a message to him, what John wanted to know was this: "Is Jesus the one to come?" John must have experienced a tremendous joy when he heard the answer:

"The blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised."

And most important of all: "the poor have the good news proclaimed to them."

Imagine how beautiful our lives would be if we could learn from John's example. No matter what our present suffering, no matter what trial we are going through, no matter what disappointment has come upon us, we have cause for joy. We can replace complaining with rejoicing; St. John shows us how. He focused on Jesus. He saw everything in relation to him.

This is especially important in our families. Parents have to do their best to protect their children from negativity. I want to say this direct: We have to protect our children from negativity regarding the Mass. We can start complaining about the music or the homily or - God forgive us - about fellow parishioners. In the process we miss the incredible gift Jesus wants to give us: His Word, His own Body and Blood. It is like sitting down to Christmas dinner and instead of appreciating the ham and sweet potatoes, we are upset because the salad isn't crisp. We get distracted by the minor stuff - and miss what really matters.

Like John the Baptist we need to focus on Jesus. The hardships of prison, everything else that was wrong, he brushed it away like a fly. John shows us how we can replace negativity with joy. Today we lit the third candle of our Advent. It has a pink - or rose - color that signifies rejoicing. Our deliverance is very near. May we be among the poor who rejoice at this good news.

**********

Spanish Version

From Archives (Third Sunday of Advent, Year A):

2013: Faith & Truth
2010: From Despair to Hope
2007: Do Not Complain
2004: The Messenger
2001: Waiting in Joyful Hope
1998: Do Not Grumble, My Brothers

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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