THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (“Let us rejoice!”) Sunday. We are rejoicing because our salvation is near at hand. A spirit of joy pervades the first and second readings as well as the psalm. In the Gospel, John responds very concretely to people who ask him: “What must we do?”
FIRST READING: Zephaniah 3:14-18
Zephaniah is a “gloom and doom” book addressed to all who are not attentive to God’s call. Today’s passage is an exception. It is addressed to a small group of Israelites who have remained loyal to their covenant with God in tough times. “Zion” is another name for Jerusalem who is called to “shout for joy.” God, their mighty Savior, is in their midst to deliver them from their misfortunes.
SECOND READING: Philippians 4:4-7
Paul is in prison and is writing to a community with problems from within and without. Despite all this, he is joyful and he urges the Philippians to rejoice. The joy that Paul advocates is not superficial but one that flows from a life deeply rooted in Christ which cannot be taken away when earthly things are removed from our lives.
GOSPEL: Luke 3:10-18
In the verses prior to today’s Gospel, John has been issuing a strong call to repentance as the way to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Some in the crowds open their hearts to John’s message and ask him three times: “What must we do?” Although John himself lives an austere life removed from the ordinary pursuits of people, he does not ask his inquirers to dissociate themselves from their own lives or occupations. Rather, he challenges them to “bloom where they are planted,” carrying out their daily responsibilities with concern for others, and to live with honesty and integrity. All of the Baptist’s instructions are relational in nature. “Do what you can to relate to others in a fair and just way.” John is very concrete in his responses. He tells one group: “Share your extras.” He tells tax collectors: “Be just and fair.” He tells the soldiers: “Quit bullying people” and “Don’t give false witness.”
Part two of today’s Gospel seeks to clarify the confusion about John’s identity. John is not the Messiah. His role is to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. He is a signpost pointing people to Jesus. He seeks to help his listeners to convert their desires into appropriate and authentic words and works.
As you will see in his response, John, the fiery preacher, shows himself to be remarkably practical. He speaks of the “winnowing fan” (a tool for separating wheat from chaff) that Jesus will use to clear his threshing floor. The last verses are intended to scare the hardhearted who see no need for repentance. But for those who are making a reasonable effort to turn their lives entirely over to God (a lifetime task), there is no reason to fear.
If you asked John the Baptist what you must do this Advent to become a better Christian, what might his answer be?