Scripture Studies, December 16, 2018 Third Sunday of Advent

December 16, 2018 Third Sunday of Advent

Advent is a celebration lasting for four Sundays which focus on the “already” and the “not yet” aspects of Christianity as we wait for the complete manifestation of the Kingdom. Among the things pointed out by the Advent season are the three ways in which Christ entered and still enters our world:

  1. He was born in Bethlehem about 2000 years ago.
  2. He comes to us every day in each of our sisters and brothers.
  3. He will come again in glory as the victorious, Messianic King of Kings.

This weekend we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent. In the old Latin liturgy this was called “Gaudete Sunday.” The name was taken from the Latin word for rejoice that starts off the second reading. On this Sunday, rose colored vestments may be used instead of the normal violet of Advent. This color is also usually used for the third candle in Advent wreaths.

With this Sunday, the readings turn our attention from the eschatological (end-time) coming of the Lord to the presence of the Lord already among us. It is precisely that presence of the Lord our God in our midst that is the cause of the joy proclaimed by Paul. Paul saw the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of all the promises made to the people of God in the first reading. In the Gospel reading, John bears testimony to who he is and what his mission is. He also testifies to the “One Who is to come.” How eagerly do we look for Him in the world around us right now?

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-18a

14 Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. 16 On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! 17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, He will sing joyfully because of you, 18 as one sings at festivals.

NOTES on First Reading:

The ministry of Zephaniah took place during the first decade or so of the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). The prophecy of Zephaniah came before that of Jeremiah, and probably influenced him in both language and ideas. The age of this prophet was a time of religious apostasy, and Zephaniah announced the impending judgment, the day of the Lord. The reading comes from the last part of Zephaniah which is the only upbeat part of the book. Here Zephaniah says that despite Judah’s infidelities, the Lord in his mercy will spare a holy remnant, which will finally enjoy peace and the prophecy closes with a hymn of joy sung by the remnant restored to Zion.

* 3:14-15 These two verses constitute a summons to rejoice and form the introduction to the last part of the Book of Zephaniah which is made up of collected sayings about the coming day of vindication. The summons to rejoice is set against the background of victory or escape by the lifting of a siege. Verse 15 implies intervention by God. Parallels are: Isa 12:6-7; 52:9; Zech 2:14. They constitute a psalm of sorts. They are related to the kingship and Zion psalms: 97; 99; 46; 48.

* 3:16-18 These verses constitute another psalm at least in form and were probably added to the book to provide a conclusion as the remaining verses were added by a post exilic redactor.

* 3:16 “Hands grow limp” is an image for despair.

* 3:17 The Lord is portrayed as a savior and protector by His presence to save. “Renew you in His love” has also been translated by some as “He shall be silent in His love.”

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! 5 Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. 6 Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. 7 Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

NOTES on Second Reading:

Paul ties the ideas of joy, thankfulness and the return of the Lord together. He maintains that our expectation of the soon return of the Lord should be both a source of joy and an inspiration to kindness because it is the proper response of a grateful heart to the blessings that God has lavished on us by allowing us to share in the peace and security that is found in Him through Jesus who will soon return.

* 4:5 The cause of the joy here and of the peace of verse 7 is the nearness of the Lord. The earliest Christians considered the time from the resurrection to the return of Christ to be the end time. From this point of view the Lord is near in every generation.

* 4:6 Paul links freedom from anxiety with placing needs in the hands of God by petitions in an attitude of thankfulness. See Matt 6:25-34; Eph 5:20.

* 4:7 This peace surpasses all understanding in two ways: It is beyond our power of understanding it; It is greater than, and accomplishes more than the peace that is provided by understanding and human wisdom. This peace is at a much deeper level than simple freedom from anxiety although freedom from anxiety may well be included within it. See John 14:27; Col 3:15.

Gospel Reading: Luke 3:10-18

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

NOTES on Gospel:

In verses 10-14 which appear in no other gospel, Luke’s John excludes no profession from salvation but requires justice and charity from all. Luke also makes a point of showing the people on the fringes of religious respectability rather than the leaders of the religious establishment accepting the call to repentance. Their response to the message of Jesus will be largely the same as their response to the message of John.

* 3:10 The question asked here is repeated in verse 12 and 14. It is also repeated in 10:25 and 18:18. In Acts, also written by Luke, it appears three times Acts 2:37; 16:30; 22:10. Obviously it is an important question to Luke and one that he felt should be asked often.

* 3:11 John’s response does not deal with ritual religious acts but with a radical selfless concern for others. This question of the proper use of material possessions will become a major Lukan theme.

* 3:12-14 Tax collectors and soldiers were exactly the ones that religious people of the time would not have expected to find at the river listening to John and yet they responded with faith and repented. This turn-around of expectations and prejudices will be characteristic of Luke’s Gospel. Luke here prepares the reader for the roles that tax collectors and soldiers will play in this gospel and in Acts. As an historical note the things that John mentions for tax collectors and soldiers were part of the reforms that Augustus had tried to bring about in what had become a corrupt system.

* 3:15 They were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah or anointed one who would be the agent of Yahweh and restore Israel.

* 3:16 John says that another is coming who will be more powerful in His ability to purify them (Holy Spirit and fire rather than water). Students were not permitted to unfasten the sandal strap of their teacher as it was the work of a slave. John claims to be unworthy to even claim the title of slave for the one who is to come.

* 3:17 He will separate the good from evil like the winnowing fork separated the fruitful from the chaff. This language along with that of 3:7 and 3:9 is probably a fair portrayal of John and may explain his questions in 7:18-23 when he sees Jesus separating good from evil in a much less dramatic manner.

* 3:18 Luke identifies the messages of John and Jesus as so similar that he considers John as starting the preaching of the Good News which Jesus will complete and fulfill. </FONT

Scripture text: New American Bible with revised New Testament copyright © 1986,1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
Commentary Sources:
Vince Del Greco
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) (Eds. Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy)

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