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Third Sunday – Year B – Advent
Readings: Isa 61:1-2, 10-11; I Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28.
1/ First Reading: RSV Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.
2/ Second Reading: RSV 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit, 20 do not despise prophesying, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good, 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
3/ Gospel: RSV John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. 19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
I. THEME: Rejoice!
Why do people rejoice? There are many reasons. It could be because people reached their goal such as students graduated from school, farmers harvested their crops, three wise men met the Messiah. It could be because people found what they had lost such as love, health, family members. In the Gospel, sick people were rejoiced when Jesus gave them back their health as the prophet Isaiah announced, the blind was seen, the deaf heard, and the lame walked. It could also be because people can do what they couldn’t do before, such as the sterile woman conceived and gave birth to the only child in her old age.
The readings of the third Sunday of Advent centered on the “rejoiced” theme because the Messiah is about to come to visit his people. He has with him everything which people are lacking and desiring. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah invited the Israelites to rejoice because the Jubilee was coming, and this Jubilee was special because it was the end of their exile (50 years, from 587 to 538 B.C.). In the second reading, St. Paul invited the faithful not only to rejoice but also to always rejoice. The reason for it is that Christ’s second coming shall happen; and everyone shall see God’s salvation. In the Gospel, John Baptist announced the Messiah had come and lived among men; if they made an effort to find him, they shall meet him.
1/ Reading I: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God.”
1.1/ The Jubilee Year: To understand what the prophet Isaiah mentioned today, we need to understand about the Jubilee Year. According to Jewish tradition, every fifty years there is a Jubilee Year; in this year, people have an opportunity to start their life anew. In the Jubilee Year, land and houses were returned to their owners, the public government shall set free or reduce punishment for prisoners and slaves. In a word, the Jubilee Year is the year in which all sins and debts were forgiven so that all people can begin their life anew (cf. Lev 25:8-55, Isa 49:8-26). The reason for this year is God’s love for people; He doesn’t want people to be crushed under debts; but gives them an opportunity to begin their life again.
1.2/ The prophet Isaiah proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” If we compare this passage with those described in the Jubilee Year, we can see many similarities such as: to announce good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to console the mourn, to declare amnesty for the captives, to announce the day of setting free for prisoners, to declare the year of the Lord’s favor, and to announce the victorious day of our God.
This passage is on chapter 61 of the third book of Isaiah, as some scholars called them; it contains only seven chapters, from 60 to 66. It was written after the exile, which was lengthen about 50 years, from 587 to 538 B.C. Some important details of the passage need to be noted:
– The Holy Spirit was often mentioned, starting with chapter 60; but was already promised in Isaiah 11:2-3. The Holy Spirit’s presence started the Messiah’s reign. Later, all those who belong to the Messiah are given the Holy Spirit (cf. Joel 2:28).
– Who was anointed to proclaim the good news? According to Isaiah (40:11, 54:1-17, 55:3), the one who was anointed by the Holy Spirit is God’s suffering servant, the Messiah.
– The point Isaiah wanted to emphasize in this passage is the total salvation which all aspects such as physical, spiritual, individual and social were included (cf. Mt 11:4-6).
1.3/ The joy because one was loved by God: The most important point to understand this passage is to determine who was loved and cared for by God in this passage. According to Targum, it is Jerusalem. Therefore, the Targum added, “Therefore, Jerusalem said” at the beginning of the passage. Jerusalem was personified to represent the Israelites, God’s people. Jerusalem was compared as a wife and God as a husband to indicate the love between God and His (Isa 54:5-8, Jer 33:10-11, Rev 19:7, 9, Jn 2:1-11). Jerusalem was also used to indicate the Church, the New Jerusalem, Christ’s spouse. Lastly, it was also used to apply to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Several important points in this passage needed to understand:
(1) He has clothed me with the garments of salvation: Salvation comes from God and is bestowed on men.
(2) He has covered me with the robe of righteousness: By believing in Christ, men were reconciled to God; therefore, they were justified by Him.
(3) The day of salvation is compared as the wedding day: Christ is the bridegroom, and the Church is the bride, “as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
(4) When men were loved and cared for by God, they are no longer as dried and stony land: “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up.”
(5) The Messiah’s glory begins from the world – with and through men – but God is still the origin of all life (Isa 45:8, 53:2). “So, the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
2/ Reading II: Christ’s second coming is about to come.
This is St. Paul’s advices to the Thessalonian faithful. The basis of these advises is Christ’s second coming; whatever they did, they must aim at this day.
2.1/ The faithful’s spirit: Living in the world with so many distractions and temptation, the faithful need to be always guarded. St. Paul gave them important and practical advises:
(1) “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.” The faithful should always be happy and give thanks to God because He loves constantly cares for them. They should accept all circumstances and find out what are God’s will for them in these circumstances. A prayer life is indispensable for all Christians.
(2) Do not quench the Spirit: The faithful must recognize different gifts which the Holy Spirit gave to each one in the community (1 Cor 12-14). This recognizance helps them to avoid jealousy and fighting. They shouldn’t extinguish true expressions of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51, Isa 63:10), though the distinguish of these expressions is also a necessary gift (1 Cor 12:10, 14:29). They need to recognize false spirits and their dangers (2 Thes 2:2).
(3) Do not despise prophesying: The gift of prophesying is expressed through preaching, teaching and encouraging. All the faithful have a duty to prophesy, that is, to proclaim the Good News (1 Cor 14:31).
(4) Test everything: The faithful shouldn’t be quick to believe everything they heard and saw; but must test them to see if they are truthful.
(5) Lastly, they must hold fast to what is good, and abstain from every form of evil.
2.2/ Christ’s second coming shall come: When St. Paul wrote his First Letter to the Thessalonica, he believed Christ’s second coming shall come soon. This is why he strongly advised the faithful to take his words seriously. Even this day didn’t happen yet, however, his words are still true, because the faithful must always be ready for this day. God is faithful, whatever He promises will certainly happen. This day must be the basis for all human activities. The whole human being contains intellect, soul and body. Wholly sanctification isn’t purely a promise but is the basis for all God’s works (Exo 31:13, Lev 21:8, Eze 37:28, Jn 17:19). Human are sanctified by God’s words, His grace and the Holy Spirit’s gifts.
3/ Gospel: “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
3.1/ John Baptist is the herald of the good news: St. John introduced John Baptist with these words: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light but came to bear witness to the light.”
Many said the reason why St. John must write these words because there existed the heresy which regarded John Baptist more than Christ. This happened wasn’t due to John himself; but might be due to his disciple or some people who respected him too much. St. John the evangelist must correct this opinion by emphasizing that: (1) only Christ is the light of the world (8:12); and (2) John Baptist “was not the light but came to bear witness to the light.”
3.2/ John Baptist’s witness: When he was scrutinized by the scribes and the Pharisees who came from Jerusalem, John Baptist gave them the following information:
(1) He was not the Messiah: Christ means the Anointed or “Christ” in Greek or “Messiah” in Hebrew. John Baptist didn’t want anybody to confuse him with Christ.
(2) He was not Elijah: There exists the confusion between the Synoptists and the Fourth Gospel. In the Synoptic, Jesus gave a hint to his disciples that John Baptist is Elijah. In the Fourth Gospel, John Baptist himself said he was not Elijah.
(3) He was not a prophet: He was humble because Jesus regarded him as the most important prophet (Mt 11:11).
(4) He was the voice in the desert: When he was pressed by the scribes and the Pharisees to reveal his identity, he said: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(5) He made the difference between his baptism and Christ’s: “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.” His baptism in water was for repentance, Christ’s baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and the sanctification.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We should always rejoice because our salvation has come. Christ has come and living among us; all of our sins are forgiven.
– We have a joy of the person who starts his life with all God’s blessings. We should always rejoice, pray to God and thank Him in all circumstances of our life.