3rd Sunday of Advent Year B. December 17, 2023

 3rd Sunday of Advent Year B. December 17, 2023

Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8; 19-28

 

Theme: Rejoice Always for this is the Will of God

Today is the third Sunday of our preparation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the beginning of this Advent season, we learned that preparation for Jesus’ coming entails some work to accomplish and attitudes to observe. The scripture readings of the first Sunday of Advent invited us to observe the attitude of a gatekeeper: to be watchful and alert. The liturgy of the second Sunday asked us to accomplish the work of the road builders: to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight. The way and paths of the Lord here stand for our one-on-one relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters that sins damage and transform into “valleys, mountains, hills, uneven grounds, and rough places”. The Bible readings of today, the third Sunday of Advent, call us to observe an attitude of joy: “Rejoice always… for this is the will of God.” The Advent season is a time of great joy. Today priests wear rose-colored vestments, and the rose candle is lit in the advent wreath to mark the character of joy of this liturgy. All the scripture readings of today invite us to meditate on the role of joy in our lives.

In our second reading, Saint Paul invites and encourages us to rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5: 16). Throughout our lives, especially in this time that we are waiting for our Lord, we need to rejoice and be glad because, as Saint Paul says, “for this is the will of God for [us] in Christ Jesus” (v. 18). The question is how is it possible to rejoice always while we face trials and suffering? We find the answer in our first reading.

Note that our first reading passage, taken from the third Isaiah (ch. 56-66), is in the context of after the people of Israel returned from the Babylonian exile. They had experienced suffering in Babylon. However, this suffering was not the final word for them. Isaiah brings them a message of joy. He proclaims that he has been anointed and sent by the Lord “to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.” (vv. 1-2a, NABRE). We see that after a long period of captivity and suffering in Babylon, God grants his favor to his chosen people. He sets them free from Babylonian captivity.

Our Holy Mother Church suggests to us the mediation of these readings to teach us two things. First, the suffering that we go through today is not the final word for us. Jesus our Lord, whose coming we are waiting for, brings us the message of joy. He comes to set us free from the captivity of sins. He comes to renew and strengthen our relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters. He comes to share our pains. For this, we need to rejoice and be glad. Second, our Holy Mother Church wants to remind us that from our baptism, we too, like Isaiah, received the Holy Spirit, we were anointed and sent to bring his Good News to our brothers and sisters, starting in our families, neighborhoods, and Church community. In this Advent season, our mission is to announce to our brothers and sisters that Christmas is not just a time of decoration and shopping, but a time in which Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, comes to set us free from the captivity of the devil. At Christmas, we start a “year of favor from the Lord”, which means, we start new relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters. Therefore, we all need to repent and receive Jesus in our lives.

We are called to “rejoice always” even amid the suffering that we go through. In order to do that, Saint Paul, in our second reading, exhorts us to develop some other habits: praying without ceasing (v. 17), giving thanks in all circumstances (v. 18), not quenching the Spirit (v. 19), not despising prophetic utterances (v. 20), and refraining from every kind of evil (v. 22). We are called to learn and teach other people to “rejoice always”. As part of “rejoicing always”, Paul invites us to be entirely preserved and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice Paul names three things in which we need to be blameless: spirit, soul, and body (v. 23). This means that there are sins of the spirit (pride, heresy, rejection of God), sins of the soul (lust, avarice, wrath), and sins of the body (fornication, gluttony, sloth) that we need to avoid. Confession is a perfect moment to clean our hearts from all these sins and make ourselves ready to welcome our Lord who is coming on Christmas, who will come at the end of time, and who comes every day into our lives.  

Many people around us do not “rejoice always” because they do not recognize Jesus in their midst. The Gospel that we heard teaches us that our baptismal mission is to point the people to Jesus as John the Baptist did. The background of this Gospel story is this: The people here were dealing with some signs of the end-time and the coming of the Messiah as prophesied by many Old Testament prophets. The first sign is John’s spiritual water-washing ritual on people in the Jordan River which gave a sense of some kind of end-times preparation alluding to what Ezekiel prophesied about an end-times water-washing associated with the new age that God would usher in (see Ezekiel 36: 25-32). The second sign is John’s dress (with a hair shirt and leather belt) which reminded the people of Elijah (see 2 Kings 1: 8), a major prophet in ancient Israel, who was thought to return at the end of times before the day of the Lord (Malachi 4: 5-6). The people of Israel also were waiting for a prophet like Moses whom Moses predicted that he would come someday (see Deuteronomy 18: 15-22). So, the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to John the Baptist to ask him if he was the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet “Moses”, the three figures whom they expected to come at the end of the age. John told them that he was none of them. He claims himself to rather be the “voice of one crying out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” (John 1: 23).

This Gospel reading teaches us a couple of things. First, the way the people of Israel were waiting for the coming of the Messiah is the same, in this Advent season, we are waiting for the coming of our Lord. Second, as John the Baptist was sent from God to testify to the light (that is Jesus), so that all might believe through him (vv. 6-7), we too from our baptism, have been sent. Our baptismal mission consists of testifying to Jesus, the Light of the world, so that our brothers and sisters might know and believe in Jesus through us. Third, John’s negative testimony about himself and his positive testimony about Jesus shows his humility.

Our baptismal mission entails great humility. Nowadays, many people look for glory, to be recognized. It should not be the case for us. Our baptismal mission in this world is not to point the people to us or other celebrities but to Jesus. Today, famous figures are advertised, and crowds run to stadiums and pay their money to watch them playing sports or performing concerts. You and I are the John the Baptist of today whose mission is to advertise about Jesus and draw the people to him. Many people follow their idol figures on Twitter, like them on Instagram, and read/watch and comment on their posts on Facebook and TikTok. Jesus does not have Twitter, but we need to point the people to him so that they might follow him. Jesus does not have Instagram, but we need to advertise about him so that people like him. Jesus does not have Facebook and TikTok, but our mission is to call the people to read, listen to, and comment on the Word of God. The true happiness is not in the celebrities whom the world advertises but in the one who is coming to live like us, Jesus. Isaiah says it in our first reading,

In this liturgy of the Mass, may God enable us to “rejoice always” even amid our daily suffering, and point our brothers and sisters to Jesus who is the reason for our joy. Amen.  

 

 

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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