The 3rd Sunday of Advent – 13 December 2020
Lectionary Readings: Isa 61:1-2a, 10-11; Lk 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thess 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
Theme: Rejoice! The LORD is near
The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday – the time for the Lord’s birth is very near. If we look at the readings beginning with the first word of the Entrance Antiphon we see ‘Rejoice’ with a section quoted from our second reading 1 Thess 5:16-24. So a good place to start my commentary is with the second reading. What does Paul encourage us to do? The obvious answer is “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (Vv.16-18). Why does Paul encourage us to follow the will of God for us? So that “your spirit and soul and body (may) be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (V. 23b) This is Paul’s way of showing us how to “make straight the way of the Lord” (Jn 1:23)
The Responsorial Psalm is taken from Mary’s Magnificat. It begins as follows: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.” What has the Lord done for Mary? The Lord looks after the hungry, the weak and the humble: “for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Lk 1:48a-49).
This brings us to the first reading from Isaiah. The passage is taken from Third Isaiah (56:1- 66:24) which presents the ‘prophecies of vindication’ (Witherup 2009:105). The title according to the “African Bible” is “New Heaven and New Earth”. This section is dated post-Babylonian exile and was probably written during the restoration of Jerusalem (ibid: 106). In the first part of this reading, we are told about the ‘anointed one’ who will look after and protect the weak. The second part describes in a different way what God has done for the faithful Israelites and for Mary according to the ‘Magnificat’. These two sections are joined by: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God” (v. 10a).
And so to the Gospel passage: we are introduced to a man named John as someone who bears witness to the ‘light’ (one of the evangelist’s contrasting themes: light and darkness). The Priests and Levites wanted to know who he was. John says he is: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!’”[v. 23, from Isa 40:3 (Second Isaiah)]
What is there in this Gospel passage about which we can rejoice? John gives us the answer: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” There ought to have been a mood of expectation among the people if they had recalled the words of Isaiah from our first reading today: that the anointed one coming after John would “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (61:2a).
We can rejoice in the Lord always because we are faint of heart (knowing our need for a Savior) and so we are told in the Communion Antiphon: “Be strong and do not fear. Behold, our God will come, and will save us.” (Is 35:4)
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. I have often in conversation referred to this year as ‘Annus Horribilis’ – a terrible year for the whole world. Before I leave behind what I see as horrible, are there any experiences, people, and ‘miracles’ about which I can rejoice? 2. Can I look towards the celebration of the birth of Jesus with strength knowing that he is the Emmanuel who comes to save all of creation? What difference will this conviction make in my life from now on?
Bibliography: The African Bible, (Nairobi: 2004); Witherup, Ronald D. The Bible Companion, (New York: 2009).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, Durban, South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna: 2008