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.
First Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11
1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly,
to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
2 To announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God,
10 I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation,
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
11 As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
So will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 61:1-2 Although this statement was originally spoken by the prophet in regard to the restoration of Zion after the exile, it was quoted by Christ as referring to his mission in Luke 4:18, 19. The words originally referred to one of the leaders of the early postexilic Isaian school of prophecy. By the time of Christ these words had become symbolic of the messianic times that were to come. So much so that the promises contained in them became messianic expectations.
Each phrase in this verse is rich in biblical tradition. “Spirit” implies that a new act of God is beginning (Judges 3:10, 11:19; and 1 Sam 10:5-13). The spirit had been promised to the messianic king (Isa 11:1-2) and later was also assured to the entire messianic people (Joel 3; Zech 12:10). Ezekiel had revived the importance of the role of the spirit and is also responsible for a priestly turn to prophecy. Trito-Isaiah (Third-Isaiah, responsible for Isa 56:1-66:24) sees the role of the spirit outside of royalty and the priesthood to include the anointing of prophets. The word, anointed is linked to teaching and hearing. It designates an interior enlightening to know God’s word and a strengthening to follow it.
The word translated as release (to prisoners) actually means light. It refers to leading prisoners out of the darkness of the dungeon into the light of freedom.
The phrases, “year of favor” and “day of vindication” refer to the time of God’s salvation.
* 61:10-11 These verses are usually interpreted as Jerusalem’s response to the favors God has promised and is delivering. She celebrates the fulfillment of love between herself and Yahweh (54:5-8; Jer 33:10-11; Rev 19:7, 9; John 2:1-11).
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 Test everything; retain what is good. 22 Refrain from every kind of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 5:16-18 This section contains some general exhortations on the Christian way of life, that is on God’s will. There is really a triple command here: rejoice, pray, and give thanks. All three of these are to be done continually. Together these are among the hallmarks of a Christian life and a good way of constantly being prepared for the return of Jesus, the Messiah.
Paul saw his belief in God and what He has done through Jesus as the source of indescribable joy and tried to instill that same joy in all the communities that he visited. Joy is also one of the classical fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17).
* 5:19-21 Both Jewish and Hellenistic parallels indicate that these passages refer to charismatic activities of both oneself and others. The community of Thessalonica may well have been “charismatically” ordered but Paul refrains from using the technical term, “charism” to describe the gifts of the Spirit as he does in 1 Cor 12:4-11.
Paul’s buoyant encouragement of charismatic freedom sometimes occasioned excesses that he or others had to remedy. 1 Cor 14; 2 Thes 2:1-15; and 2 Peter 3:1-16 are examples of such efforts to correct a misunderstood and misapplied freedom of the spirit.
* 5:21-22 Paul urges the readers to make use of the discernment of charisms which is itself a charismatic activity (1 Cor 12:10) to judge the gifts and their use. These verses probably refer to recognizing the difference between true and false prophecy. There are, however, some scholars who take them to refer to moral discernment and judgments (Isa 1:16, 17).
* 5:23 Many readers attempt to read this passage as a tripartite form of anthropology.
The more common opinion is that the three terms designate the whole human person under different aspects. This would be consistent with typical Jewish anthropology where: “spirit” identifies a person as a creature; “soul” identifies the person as a vital being; and “body” identifies the person as a corporal and social being. There is another possible translation that is favored by some scholars which reads, “May the God of peace Himself make you perfectly holy and sanctify your spirit fully, and may both soul and body be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This translation, in effect, identifies the human person as “soul and body” and gives “spirit” an independent nuance.
Regardless of how one translates the words, however, it is likely that Paul does not intend to offer an anthropological or philosophical analysis of human nature. He is looking toward the wholeness of what may be called the supernatural and natural aspects of a person’s service of God. All aspects of our humanity are like all else that God has created, at His disposal and in His service to accomplish His ends which are for our good.
Gospel Reading: John 1: 6-8, 19-28
6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
19 And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites (to him) to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” 23 He said:
“I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert,
“Make straight the way of the Lord,”‘
as Isaiah the prophet said.” 24 Some Pharisees were also sent. 25 They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, 27 the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
NOTES on Gospel:
* 1:6 Other references to John the Baptist in this gospel emphasize the differences between Jesus and John and carefully subordinate John’s role to that of Jesus. Here the similarity between Jesus and John is stressed in that John was sent just as Jesus was “sent” (John 4:34) in divine mission.
* 1:7-8 John is portrayed as a witness, not as a messianic figure. Introduction of the testimony theme has the effect of portraying Jesus as if He were on trial throughout his ministry. Characters are constantly introduced to testify to Jesus (John the Baptist, the Samaritan woman, scripture, his works, the crowds, the Spirit, and his disciples).
* 1:9 “True” is used to designate “real” in the sense that it is a divinely given reality. It also occurs in 4:23; 6:32; 15:1; 17:3; 7:28.
* 1:19-28 This section constitutes the introduction to the gospel proper and is connected with the prose inserts in the prologue. It develops four scenes (not included in the reading this week) with the major theme of testimony: John’s negative testimony about himself; his positive testimony about Jesus; the revelation of Jesus to Andrew and Peter; the revelation of Jesus to Philip and Nathaniel.
Here, as throughout most of the gospel, the “Jews” does not refer to the Jewish people but, rather, to the hostile authorities, both Pharisees and Sadducees, particularly in Jerusalem, who refuse to believe in Jesus. This usage reflects the atmosphere, at the end of the first century, which was a time of hostility between church and synagogue. It might also refer to Jews as representatives of a hostile world (John 1:10-11).
* 1:20 Messiah first appears as a term for a future anointed agent of Yahweh in Dan 9:25. Through other texts (especially 1 Sam 7:8-17) the Messiah was usually considered to be of Davidic descent.
* 1:21 The questions refer to the expectation that Elijah would be returned to earth (see Malachi 4:1; Matthew 11:14) and that a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15; see Acts 3:22) would be raised up in the time of the Messiah. John denies that he is either of these. The synoptic gospels in fact, identify him as the one who came in the spirit of Elijah (Mark 9:13; Matt 17:12; Luke 1:17; 7:27).
It is only in the Christian sources however that Elijah is portrayed as a forerunner of the Messiah rather than of Yahweh’s day of judgment.
* 1:23 This is a variation from the versions presented in both the synoptic gospels and the Septuagint (ancient Greek text) of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 40:3 which reads, “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord.”
* 1:24 The translation presented here (NAB) of this verse is probably better than most other translations, such as “Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.” This misunderstands the grammatical construction and fails to recognize that this is a different group from that in John 1:19. The priests and Levites would have been Sadducees, not Pharisees.
* 1:25-27 The question provides another opportunity for John to testify. The answer that John gives here may indicate that baptism was a point of contention between the Johannine Christian community and the followers of John. The issue is continued in yet another testimony of John in 1:29-34 where he alludes to Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit (1:33).</p