Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 13 December 2015 – What Should We Do?

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Third Sunday of Advent C – 13 December 2015 – “What Should We Do?”

Click here for today’s scriptures

Those who chose these biblical texts would not have known how timely they would be for us today. Two powerful human emotions are mixed together — joys and anxieties.

In the first reading the prophet Zephaniah warned the people of Judah that they would be punished because of their acts of injustice and corruption. Zephaniah said by placing their credence in God they would have nothing to fear and would be saved. Only a small remnant listened. To trust in God requires not only faith but also action.

I heard a preacher once say, “the appearances of God in those old biblical stories, as in the one we just heard, were, more often than not, associated with moments of trial and tribulation. They rarely happened when everyone was having a good day.”

We are in a similar situation today. This is a season to be jolly but noxious news informs us that things are not good globally, in our country and for some people. Where is God? How can this world come to reflect God’s vision for a planet without violence, injustice, oppression? [1]

Recent strategies to fix the refugee problem and thwart the threats of terrorism frighten many us and others worldwide. One community denounced recent anti-Muslim rhetoric as morally unconscionable and appalling.

The statement said, such hatred is “generations old and part of a system that thrives on the dehumanization, scapegoating and marginalization of diverse communities.” You and I must repudiate any political or religious ideology that denigrates groups of people because of color, creed or nationality. We must oppose anyone who spews it.

[NOTE: See the Q & A at the end of this homily for some information on Islam and Muslims. The sheet was distributed in our parish this weekend.]

In Luke’s gospel John the Baptizer continues to serve as the warm up act for Jesus. Filled with enthusiasm that someone was finally coming, who would clean up an oppressive socio-political mess, a diverse group of people questioned John. How do we prepare for the One who is to come? What should we do? John’s reply addressed the inequities marked by greed and prejudice. We wonder too. What should we do to recognize God’s presence?

I suspect we are doing our best. We who gather around this holy table, who align ourselves with people worshiping in different faith traditions, are cognizant of the troubles and fears that we and others live with. But, we are ministers of joy and mercy. We have learned in this sacred space that our prayers and hopes carry us beyond these walls and equip us with the strength and conviction that the great and holy One is in our midst (Isaiah 12).

Nadia Bolz-Weber, who spoke at the Hubbard Sanctuary last Friday, is an unpretentious pastor who helps saints and sinners recognize the presence of Christ in each other. “No one gets to play Jesus,” she said. “But we do get to experience Jesus in that holy place where we meet others’ needs and have our own needs met. We are all the needy and the ones who meet needs.”

The Vatican Two Ecumenical Council ended fifty years ago last week. In retrospect, we see one of the documents echoes the same message. In the opening lines of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World it reads, the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age are also the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.

This teaching calls us to work with others to secure a peace based on justice and love, to set up agencies of peace and to do so with the help of Christ. Peace cannot be obtained unless personal values are safeguarded with a determination to respect other peoples and their dignity. [2]

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul urges us to rejoice and have no fears or anxiety. He reminds us to share a simple gift — to be kind and merciful to one another. He concluded, the peace of God will win out in the end. Now that’s good news.


  1.  Kent Harold Richard in Attridge, Harold W. (Ed.) The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV (San Francisco: Harper) 1989, p. 1260
  2.  Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965, Nos 77-78


In recent weeks some words and phrases have been used in the media in reference to Muslims and Islam. This Q & A list, drawn from different sources, may be helpful in sorting out misunderstandings. Of course, there is much more to the Islamic faith than can fit on this handout. [RSV]

What does the word Islam mean?

Islam is an Arabic word and means “surrendering to God and attaining peace.” Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and in the United States.

Is there a reference to Islam in the bible?

Jews and Christians trace ancestry to Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah. Muslims believe they are descendants of Ishmael the son of Abraham and Hagar. So it may be said that Muslims, Jews and Christians have the same ancestral father!

Did Ishmael and Abraham build anything?

Abraham and Ishmael built a shrine in the Valley of Baca now called Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is the holiest city in Islam. Medina, also in Saudi Arabia, is the second holiest city. The sacred Ka’bah, a large granite cube, is located in Mecca.

What does the word “hajj” mean?

Hajj means pilgrimage. The prophet Ishmael encouraged nomads in the desert to visit the shrine in the Valley of Baca. Today, all able Muslims must make a journey to the Ka’bah shrine in Mecca once in a lifetime to find meaning in life.

Where does Mohammed come in?

The prophet Mohammad was born in 570 CE (Common Era) and died when he was 62 years old. He is considered the founder of modern Islam. His sayings (ahadith) and writings form the basis of Muslim law today.

What is the Qur’an?

Muslims believe the Qur’an is the direct word of God delivered to Mohammed by an angel in small portions between the years 610-623 CE. Also spelled Koran, it means “reading” or “recital.”

Does the Qur’an call for violence again non-Muslims?

No. The Qur’an condemns aggression and sees all religions as gifts from the same God. The book does allow for fighting back against enemies but not to harm or kill innocent persons. ISIS terrorists are ignoring Islamic teachings.

What does jihad mean? Who is a jihadist?

The word “jihad” means “struggle, effort or endeavor.” It does not mean holy war. It could mean fighting for God’s sake, going to school or working for the good of others. The Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daish) or independent terrorists are “jihadists” in a very narrow sense of the word. Islamic law forbids terrorism.

Why do terrorists and suicide bombers cry out “Allah is great!”

People do use the name of God to justify their actions. History shows that extremists often misuse religion to rationalize wars and other brutal actions.

What does the word Shari’ah mean?

Literally, shari’ah means the path to the watering hole. It is the word for the Islamic legal system. It is a body of moral and religious law derived from prophetic teachings and not human legislation.

What about human rights in Muslim countries?

While Islam does not support or propose inequality, the struggle for human rights for women and men is not unique to Muslim countries or the Islamic religion.

Who is a caliph?

A caliph or “kalifah” is a political and religious successor to Mohammed. Today, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is considered the Caliph of the Islamic State by his supporters. A caliphate is a form of Islamic government. Shiites believe a caliph should be an imam (prayer leader), sinless, infallible and chosen by God.

Who are Sunnis? Shiites?

Although Islam is officially against sectarianism, there are many sects in Islam. Eighty-five percent of Muslims in the world are Sunnis. The Islamic State is a Salafi militant sect that practices a fundamentalist Wahabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.

Who are Salafis? Wahabis?

Salafi jihadism is an ideology based on violent jihadism and is practiced by Muslims who want to return to what they believe to be true Sunni Islam. Wahhabism and its extreme ideas of purity is a minority practice in the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden practiced Wahhabism.

What are the five pillars of Islam?

Faith, prayer, charity, fasting and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Christians, Jews and other major religions in the world practice the first four. Pray for understanding, reconciliation and peace.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

One thought on “Homily – 13 December 2015 – What Should We Do?

  1. Very informative! I will send people to your blog instead of searching my memory when people ask these questions!


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