Third Sunday of Advent
Reading 1 ZEP 3:14-18A
Responsorial Psalm IS 12:2-3, 4, 5-6.
- (6) Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Reading 2 PHIL 4:4-7
Alleluia IS 61:1(Cited In Lk 4:18)
- Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 3:10-18
3rd Sunday of Advent—December 15 & 16 of 2018
This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday taken from the Latin of the Entrance Antiphon for today: “Gaudete in Domino semper” which means “Rejoice in the Lord always”. As we move into the second part of Advent there is a sense of joyful expectation, an awareness that the fulfillment of God’s great plan for us is near.
The first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah. His book opens with images of wrath, warning that God is about to sweep everything off the face of the land. His second chapter announces the possibility that if the people humble themselves, they might be sheltered on the day of God’s anger. The third chapter continues with a warning that it will be impossible to ignore the horrors that God will rain down.
Then, beginning with chapter 3 verse 9 Zephaniah tells us that God will purify the people and save a remnant who will conduct themselves as people of God. These are the people who will be addressed as daughter—Jerusalem, Israel and Zion.
Now, instead of the extremes of destruction and salvation, we have mirror images of daughter Zion and her God rejoicing in one another. It is no great surprise that the people would rejoice; their enemies had been routed and they had nothing more to fear. There is a note of triumph as well as relief over what God has done for them.
A key word for St. Paul in this section of his letter to the Philippians is the one-word invitation, “Rejoice!” That command is actually an invitation to be holy. Scripture scholar Gordon Fee tells us that to understand this passage we need to remember that “devotion and ethics for Paul are inseparable responses to grace.” A godly person, he says, longs to be in God’s presence, pouring out his or her heart. At the same time, godly people remain in the presence of God by doing what is righteous. Holiness is a matter of heart and hands—and when the two cooperate together with grace, the result will be joy.
Pope Francis gave us a modern approach to this in the apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate. In his opening paragraph, Francis tells us that Christ “wants us to be saints and not to settle for . . . a mediocre existence”. The call to be a saint is not boring; we need not fear holiness: “It will take away none of your energy, vitality, or joy. On the contrary. . . you will be faithful to your deepest self.
Holiness and the joy that accompany it come from allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal your deepest potential and the mission that only you can accomplish. Francis invites us: “Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world”.
After two readings that call us to joy, the Gospel sends us to the river to listen to John the Baptist. Demanding as it was, John’s preaching struck a chord among his people. Everything indicates that he was immensely popular. When we note how the gospels took pains to describe John as secondary in importance in relation to Jesus, we realize that many people must have confused the two of them and that John had his own significant following.
John tells the people that this is only the beginning. Another is coming. Rather than a message of peace, John tells them that the one to come bears a winnowing fan. Though today many might not be familiar with the term, a winnowing fan was a fork-like shovel. The winnower used the fan to throw wheat grains into the air. The heavy kernels would fall to the ground and the lighter chaff would be blown away gathered up, and burned. John the Baptist used this vivid image to speak of what the “one who is to come” would do.
The one to come that John was describing and the Jesus that Luke portrays later in this gospel might cause us to wonder, were John’s expectations met? Perhaps in his fire-and-brimstone preaching he was hoping for a fiery judgment. And this could be the reason he sent messengers to Jesus later in the gospel asking him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Luke 7:19) John’s own expectation of a Messiah who would bring judgment, wrath, and an “unquenchable fire” might not have been met by Jesus. John would not be the first to have dashed expectations and hopes. Jesus has another way. Still. John’s essential message of practicing justice and mercy are good ways to prepare for Christ’s coming.
Let us rejoice because the Lord comes not as judge, but as Savior. God, who would rather forgive than punish, is giving them and us a second chance. The babe born in Bethlehem is coming like a shepherd to guide his flock home.
If you were to ask John the Baptist “what you should do?” what would he tell you—think about that today as part of your Advent preparation for Christmas.