This deep into Advent, and we are still having to deal with John the Baptist. It has been my experience in parish life that many folks are begging for Mary and quite disappointed when cousin John shows up again. After all, many have had their own Christmas tree up for three weeks by now, they have played every Bing Crosby Christmas album they own for the past couple of weeks. They are just about tired of shopping and all the Christmas cheer (and there are still a couple of weeks to go), bring the baby to church already…
I think this is precisely why John shows up in week 3, to annoy and confound us, and remind us that what we are preparing for for.as a church may be completely different than what “we” were expecting.
- The passage from Isaiah 61 is a great reading. It gives us a bridge between John and Jesus. We know that this is the message of a prophet after the destruction of Israel, and it is a powerful word for a broken people. It is a word that John comes preaching to Israel in the first century, a broken and searching people. It just happens to be the passage that Jesus reads in his hometown synagogue in Luke 4 (and they drove Jesus out of town after he read and commented on this passage). It is a prophetic reading that should turn the preacher to the great themes of righteousness and justice.
- The Psalm is an excellent compliment, the alternate selection, the Magnificat (Mary’s Song-Luke 1:46-55) is also a powerful compliment. For churches that do not us the Daily Office that includes the regular reading of the Magnificat, I suggest that this would be a great Sunday to use it. Plus, you get he added benefit of throwing in a little of the holy family in the middle of Advent and people can stop complaining “three weeks in and no mention of Mary and Joseph”
- The Epistle reading is a short one from Thessalonians. It begins with the word “Rejoice” which gives you a hint that something is up in Advent. It is a turning point of sorts. Yes, we are still reading about John the Baptist but things are beginning to point toward the Christmas narrative. This third Sunday has been known as “Gaudete” or “Rejoice” Sunday over the centuries, and sometimes a pink candle is lit on this Sunday to remind us that this season of preparation is a season of joy after all. This is another reason to use the Magnificat with the Epistle on this Sunday. Note: Thessalonians is a letter about preparing for the second coming and God’s new day in the works. We can’t get away from the apocalyptic nature of Advent even though we are certainly preparing to read Jesus’ birth narrative again.
- I always try to make the point during Advent that all four Gospels dedicate space to John the Baptist, only three of them have a Jesus birth narrative, and John’s Gospel speaks of the “Word made flesh” right in the middle of John the Baptist’s story. This is noteworthy for the preacher. The Gospel Lesson from John is the most poetic of the four Baptizer narratives, and the “light” images give us another reference that things are beginning to turn in Advent. John keeps pointing the way to the Christ who is coming. They keep wanting to know who John is and he gives them a great Old Testament answer–“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness ” (Isaiah 40)
- A nice little commentary- The Sent and the Sender
- Intriguing title–good meditation on the readings: The People Who Walk Upside Down