3rd Sunday of Advent C
Readings: Zephaniah 3:14‑18 Philippians 4:4‑7 Luke 3:10‑18
"Cry out with joy and gladness;/ for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel." This Sunday's responsorial (Isaiah 12) calls us to confidently rejoice in the approach of the "mighty savior" (Zeph 3:17). Those who are willing to do the practical acts of repentance demanded by John the Baptist in today's Gospel selection can await the arrival of the Messiah in joyful peace and without frantic anxiety.
Zephaniah was a prophet during a time of idolatry and apostasy from the covenant in seventh century B.C. Judah. Most of his short book is filled with oracles of judgment describing the Lord's Day of doom and judgment against Judah and the nations. But his prophecy ends on a note of hope and a promise of joy for the purified remnant left in Jerusalem/Zion (3:10‑11). Once the judgment is over, Zion is commanded to "Shout for joy!", because the presence of "The King of Israel, the Lord" will guarantee her safety. Jerusalem is even promised that "The Lord, your God" will himself "sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals." “On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:/ fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!/ The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior;/ he will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love./ He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”
The second reading from Philippians continues the tone of confident joy as Paul, while in prison, exhorts his beloved community: "Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again. Rejoice!" Their perpetual gratitude to the Lord should lead to acts of kindness. "Everyone should see how unselfish you are." Despite the sufferings both he and they are enduring, Paul is convinced that "The Lord himself is near." Therefore, they can "dismiss all anxiety from (their) minds." Paul ends his exhortation by encouraging the Philippians to present their "needs to God in every form of prayer and petitions full of gratitude." He then assures them that "God's own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over (their) hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus."
In the Gospel from Luke, John the Baptist presents concrete ways of properly preparing in repentance for the arrival of the Messiah. In the previous section from last Sunday’s reading from Luke’s gospel, John warns the crowds who have come to be baptized: “produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). Now various groups ask him, “What shall we do?” John's advice is specific and within the means of each group. He commands those who have extra goods to “share with the person who has none.” He orders the tax collectors, who were notorious cheats, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Finally, he charges the soldiers, who were tempted to use their military might for their own advantage, “Do not bully anyone. Denounce no one falsely. Be content with your pay.”
John's duties also include pointing to the arrival of the Messiah. His father Zechariah had sung of him at his birth: "And you, child, will be called/ prophet of the Most High,/ for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways./ to give his people knowledge of salvation/ through the forgiveness of their sins . . .” (Lk 1:76) So when the people, "full of anticipation," want to know if he "might be the Messiah," John fulfills his mission by saying: “I am baptizing you in water, but there is one to come who is mightier than I. I am not fit to loosen his sandal strap. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Lk 3:16).
John's last warning announces the Messiah's coming as a harvester with “His winnowing‑fan . . . in his hand” about to clear the threshing floor by gathering the wheat into his granary and burning the chaff in unquenchable fire. For those prepared to follow John's preaching this is not a threat but the "good news" of the arrival of God's long awaited justice.