|John the Baptist|
The Third Sunday of Advent traditionally is called Gaudate Sunday, a name which comes from the first word of the Latin Mass introit on this Sunday: Gaudate, “be joyful,” or “rejoice.” The color is lightened to rose, signaling that we are more than halfway to Christmas. Some people call this “Stir Up Sunday” because of the first words of the Collect of the Day.
1st Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Zephaniah prophesied in the closing years of the seventh century bce. and was clearly influenced by Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem (“First Isaiah”). These were good years for Israel under King Josiah (640-609 bce), who many regarded as the greatest king since David. The prophets of this time, however, knew that prosperity was being built on the backs of the poor and that the collapse of the society was just a matter of time. Zephaniah himself may have been an Ethiopian, the only Jewish prophet we know of African origin. His writing consists of nine oracles. The first eight are full of judgment and coming destruction. The ninth is our reading this morning, proclaiming that there is still hope for a righteous remnant. Zephaniah celebrates God’s presence remaining with a renewed Israel.
3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
Canticle: The First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12:2-6)
The psalm is replaced today by a canticle from The Book of Common Prayer (#9). Isaiah 12:2-6 (usually referred to as “The First Song of Isaiah”) is a song of praise that concludes the first major section of the book of Isaiah. It is a song of awaited redemption. It continues the hopeful theme of Zephaniah and leads into Paul’s theme of joy in the next reading.
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you
is the Holy One of Israel.
2nd Reading Philippians 4:4-7
At the beginning of this chapter, Paul called the Philippians his joy and his crown (4:1). Joy is a major theme of the letter, culminating in our passage this morning. How to translate “The Lord is near” is anybody’s guess as there is no verb in the original Greek. It probably ties to the next phrase, “Do not worry…” That makes the sentiment something like, “The Lord is near so do not worry…” The last sentence of the passage is, of course, the traditional blessing from Anglican/Episcopal liturgies. Notice, however, the stronger word “guard” rather than the “keep” in our blessing.
4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Gospel Reading: Luke 3:7-18
The first six lines below follow on the reading from last week and are parallel to the other Gospels’ account of John’s preaching. What follows (“And the crowds asked him…”) is found only in Luke. They describe a very practical following of John’s and then Jesus’ teaching. This is what repentance looks like. It looks like compassion, honesty and justice. John’s baptism was a ritual purification signifying repentance. Christian baptism would develop into something deeper—initiation into the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and membership in Christ’s Body the Church.
3:7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Canticle translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. . All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.