Carry the Word with you
Third Sunday in Advent, Year B
First reading of the day:
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
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 poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.
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. 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.
Second reading of the day:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.
Gospel of the day:
John 1:6-8, 19-28
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 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?” 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.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Reflection on the readings: People do not typically think of baptism when they think of Advent, but evidence from the history of the ancient church in Syria suggests the proper time for those faith communities to baptize was at the Epiphany. In the days and weeks leading up to the Epiphany, catechumens in the Syrian church who sought baptism fasted and prayed to prepare for initiation into the body of Christ. Advent might be a relic of this period of preparation for baptism. As time passed and baptism lost some of its association with Epiphany, people still had a sense that the period leading up to Christmas and Epiphany was a period of reflection, prayer, and fasting. When we do things like people who are preparing for baptism do-–things like prayer, fasting, almsgiving, or other spiritual disciplines-–we’re essentially preparing for baptism, and for those of us who already are baptized, we’re seeking to deepen the meaning of our baptisms in our lives. The basic vocation of each baptized person is to help bring heaven’s reign to the world. The first reading from Isaiah includes the passage that Jesus reads when he unrolls the scroll in the synagogue of Nazareth as a sort of mission statement at the start of his ministry. But it is also a statement about who Jesus calls us to become in fulfilling our baptismal promises: people inspired by the empowering, liberating, eye-opening mission of Jesus for society and the world. The passage challenges us as baptized people to become alive, compassionate, merciful, honest, just, and authentic. Being women and men of action, however, is not our entire baptismal commitment. Paul counsels us to pray, and not just to pray but to pray unceasingly: As we renew our baptismal promises in Advent, we are to cultivate an awareness of God’s presence from moment to moment in our lives.