Scripture readings for Dec. 17, 2023, Third Sunday of Advent
Is 61:1-2a, 10-11 Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54 1 Thes 5:16-24 Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
It’s Gaudete Sunday and the time to rejoice is near
“Rejoice in the Lord!” is the invitation we hear this Third Sunday of Advent, when God’s word calls us, once again, to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation, soon to be celebrated in the great feast of Christmas. Traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, the theme of rejoicing in the Lord echoes through the readings and into our hearts and lives. We may ask — in the midst of this seasons’ rejoicing, do we pause in prayerful reflection to give thanks to God for the immeasurable gift of his son Jesus? Will I make the words of the psalmist — “my soul rejoices in my God,” my daily Advent prayer?
Isaiah tells us that God anointed him to proclaim a message of liberation and joy. Once he receives the spirit of the lord, his mission reaches out to the needy and oppressed. For the lowly and the brokenhearted, his words must have been a source of comfort and great hope.
Isaiah also announces a year of favor from the Lord, a jubilee year that occurred once every fifty years in Israel’s history. This was a special time of restored equality and justice, when the land was left fallow, debts were forgiven, and prisoners set free. Jesus’ coming into the world inaugurates God’s Kingdom, now come to earth in a definitive time of redeeming grace that the world longs for.
Saint Paul continues the theme of rejoicing as he describes the kind of people we become as we await the coming of Christ. He encourages the early Christians to rejoice always, to pray constantly, and to discern the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Wise words of spiritual advice and a good road map for the Advent season.
Another guide we are given for our spiritual journey is the figure of John the Baptist, the Advent saint par excellence. In the Gospel, he tells us that he is the one sent by God to witness to Jesus, the light of the world. His witness began in the womb, as he leaped for joy at the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, his mother, and culminated in his ultimate witness of martyrdom. His entire life pointed to Jesus’ coming, as he made “straight the way of the Lord.”
From John the Baptist we learn that our Christian witness is rooted in humility and boldness. We learn from this saint of Advent to fix our gaze on the Lord Jesus, so that our hearts will overflow with Advent joy as we welcome Jesus in faith praying, “speak to me, Lord.”
Question: How are you called to witness to Jesus with humility and boldness?
Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.