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December 16, 2012 - Third Sunday of Advent

Zep 3:14-18a; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

December 12, 2012

It was to be a relaxing lazy Saturday morning of visiting with a dear friend from graduate school days. I awoke early, dressed, started a pot of coffee, grabbed my keys and headed out to the store to get some milk and breakfast rolls. When getting off the elevator, I suddenly felt the bunch of keys in my hand lighten, then a "clink" of metal upon metal, followed by a remote "thunk-swish" as a ring of three keys - my CTU office keys - separated from my larger key ring - plummeting through the two-inch opening in the elevator doorway, to the base of the elevator shaft! Stunned, I bent low to peer down into the dark, narrow void - but I could see no keys!

Realizing that those few moments had now restructured the morning - if not the entire day - I decided that at least I could complete my mission and get the breakfast supplies. I raced through the store, contemplating the kind of contraption I could concoct to retrieve my precious keys.

Arriving home, I relayed my crisis to my friend, and we set about pulling apart two wire coat hangers; reshaping both into a three-foot straight length; taping the wires together; securing two refrigerator magnets at one end and forming a hook at the other. Then - flashlight and wire contraption in hand, my faithful friend and I left the breakfast table to commandeer the east elevator and hold it open on the first floor so we could execute the retrieval of the keys.

Shining the flashlight into the narrow cavern, to my delight - I was able to see the keys! I proceeded to thread our wire contraption, magnet end first, down into the shaft. Soon I heard the "chink" of the magnet making contact and grabbing the keys. Then, I - oh so gently - lifted the wire contraption bearing the magnet-hugging keys up toward the elevator floor.

But then it happened! AJ in all of his six-foot glory came bounding around the corner - barely missing knocking me flat or trampling my friend! Far louder in my ears than AJ's "Excu-u-u-se me!" was the "klunk-cluhrk" sound of the keys dropping off the magnets and sliding (hopelessly) out of sight, back under the elevator floor. AJ realized what had just happened, again apologized, and got on the west elevator. My friend and I tried everything we could think of - but to no avail. So next, risking the possibility of needing to pay a penalty for calling the building maintenance man on a weekend, we called the emergency maintenance number. The manager said they had no key for the elevator shaft, and the cost for calling the elevator company was $200.00 and upwards. Being a "poor Franciscan," I could not afford that expense - so once again, we took our wire contraption and flashlight in hand and returned to the elevator.

Fortunately, I remembered the sound of the keys dropping, and judged that they had slid about four to six inches from where they had originally rested. Thus, I bent the hooked end of the wire like and elongated head of a golf club, and then began slowly sweeping it back and forth under the elevator floor. After - what seemed like hours - I made contact with the keys! I was able to pull the keys forward and back into our line of sight! And finally, Mr. B. the maintenance man came. Taking one look at the scene, he took our wire contraption in hand, bent the hooked end just so - and in one swift move - rescued my keys from their dark, dreary prison! A squeal of sheer relief and joy shot up my throat as Mr. B. firmly placed the keys in my hand. Spontaneously my friend, Mr. B., and I joined in a spontaneous celebrative dance. Ah - what joy! Rejoicing - indeed!

Advent waiting can be like those tense moments of searching for keys in an elevator shaft! But today's scripture readings break through the more sober, somber, soul searching spiritual preparation and waiting of the Advent season, giving us a brief glimpse of Christmas joy yet to come. Traditionally, this Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday - named for the first word of the Entrance Antiphon in the Latin text - Gaudete, meaning rejoicing. All of today's readings are laced through with themes of joy and jubilation. The third candle on the Advent Wreath and the vestments for today are rose colored to signal the anticipatory joy that will come full at Christmas. But what is this joy all about? Certainly far more that recovering a set of lost keys! Yet, in another sense, it is not so different.

We read - " ... The LORD has removed the judgment against you ... the LORD, is in your midst ... a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love ... (Zep 3). So what should be our response? We can become spiritually bold and confident, drawing strength from the deep waters of salvation (Is 12). And then what shall we do? St. Paul writes: "Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God (Phil 4). Beyond that, Luke challenges us to act concretely: "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise" (Lk 3). And what will bring this momentary joy to full bloom? "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Lk 3) - these are signs of God's power and loving presence made known at Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-4) and God's refining characteristics (Ez 36: 25-27; Mal 3:2-3). In the miracle of the Incarnation that we will celebrate at Christmas, we will come to know true joy and rejoicing. Indeed, that is why Paul can proclaim: "Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4).

Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F., Ph.D.
The Erica and Harry John Family Professor of Catholic Theological Ethics

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