The Third Week
The gospel passage for the Third Sunday of Advent is from the fourth gospel. Here again we are in the wilderness with John the Baptist, but now our attention shifts from the Second Sunday’s focus on the Baptist’s prophetic message, to this Sunday’s captivation with the identity of the messenger and his mission: “Who are you?” and “Why then are you (doing what you do)?” These questions resemble the challenge to Elijah at Horeb: “What are you doing here?” [I Kg 19:1, 13]. These are basic questions that emerge at various points in our spiritual journey, as invitations to growth, and clarification, and deepening. Will we risk sitting with these questions for a while, with John, in the wilderness, which has been known to be a place of temptation but also of revelation?
The other two readings for this Third Sunday can guide our response to those questions. The first reading, from Isaiah 61, is that magnificent passage that reappears in Luke 4 as the missioning of Jesus: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news …” [vs. 1]. At the heart of the identity of the servant in Isaiah and of John the Baptist, at the heart of Jesus’ identity and of ours, is the sense of somehow being chosen, anointed, and sent. In that same passage we hear Isaiah’s ecstatic response, which finds an echo in Mary’s song in Luke 1: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God” [Is 61:10]. The second reading, from 1 Thessalonians, also speaks of the attitudes with which to receive these gifts of identity and mission: “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” [vv. 16-18], because “the one who calls you is faithful” [vs. 24]. Can we allow this conviction to sustain us, as it does John the Baptist?
Diane Willey, nds