13 December 2015: Third Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Zep 3:14-18a  Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6  Phil 4:4-7  Lk 3:10-18


Advent: a sense of nearness and rejoicing

Amid our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary tells RCIA participants and the believing community to rejoice at God’s closeness.

The first reading is from Zephaniah, who prophesied in Judah between 640-622BC. Zephaniah’s writings and oracles are not hope-filled. However, in this passage, Zephaniah describes Israel’s restoration after its judgement. It is a scene of happiness, song, and rejoicing. When God restores Israel, the people will find “the Lord is in your midst.” When the early Christians heard this passage, they were reminded of Jesus’ coming in the flesh–Emmanu-El, “God-with-us.”

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippian ekklesia (believing community), gives this Sunday its name: Gaudete Sunday. The Latin word gaudete means “let us rejoice.” Paul tells the Philippians to “rejoice always; rejoice!” because “the Lord is near.” Although Paul is writing about the parousia, Jesus’ second coming, the Lectionary editors place this reading in Advent to emphasize the Lord’s nearness through Jesus’ Incarnation.

Luke’s gospel continues from last week. This week Luke tell us more about John the Baptizer’s teachings and identity:

  • John’s teachings: Three groups ask John the Baptizer for specific advice about how to live. John tells the crowds to share what they have with those who are in need. He tells tax collectors to take nothing more than their assigned share. He tells soldiers to be satisfied with what they have, not to extort (literally “shake down”) people, and not to slander. This is good life advice for any disciple in any age.
  • John’s identity: The people begin to wonder if John the Baptizer is the messiah. “No,” John says, and highlights three differences. First, John baptizes with water; the coming one will baptize with fire and the Spirit. Second, the coming one will be powerful–the Greek word means “physical power,” “strength,” or “might.” Like many first-century Jews, John may have understood the messiah as a political or military leader. Third, John believes the messiah will come to judge everyone. He gives an extended image of winnowing (separating the wheat and chaff), saving the wheat in barns, and burning the chaff in “unextinguishable file.” Luke tells us John the Baptizer “announces the good news”–the nearness in time of the messiah.

While RCIA participants and the whole believing community wait and prepare, we should also rejoice. The Lord is near. Jesus has come in history and saved us. Jesus comes sacramentally every day to be with us. Jesus will come at the end of history to bring us into the kingdom. God rejoices and sings because God’s people have been restored. Isn’t this why we, too, rejoice?

–Terence Sherlock

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