Today’s Gospel from John shares several similarities to the Gospel from Mark last Sunday. Both highlight John the Baptist as the herald for the Messiah. Advent is a great time to reflect on people who, like John, shed light on what is important and what enables us to draw nearer to God.
Do not despise prophetic utterances. (1 Thes 5:20)
How do you live out your Christian faith?
What can you do to promote the common good?
Who or what brings you joy?
In the evangelist John’s prologue, John the Baptist is said to be sent from God as a witness to testify so that “all might believe through him.” Through his proclamations and actions, John the Baptist helps people to understand Jesus’ significance as the Messiah. Like Mark last week, John insists that John the Baptist is not the Messiah himself; rather, he prepares the way for him. This insistence suggests that there was uncertainty and debate in antiquity over how John should be regarded. During Advent, we frequently hear about John the Baptist and his role as herald on behalf of Christ. We should be inspired to model ourselves after him, considering ways in which we too can proclaim our Christian witness.
In addition, the third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, and the first and second readings aptly emphasize the importance of joy at this point in the season. In the first reading from Isaiah, we hear a prophecy that delivers good news to people who are recovering after the Babylonian exile. The speaker, perhaps a member of the post-exilic community or a prophet, rejoices in God’s saving power and quest for justice. God is depicted as savior, comforter and advocate, delivering good news to the most vulnerable and marginalized: the poor, brokenhearted, captives and prisoners. The reading reminds us to rejoice in knowing that God’s salvific power is active in the world and in our lives. Even and perhaps especially when moments are challenging, today we are reminded to “rejoice heartily in the Lord” who makes “justice and praise spring up.”
The second reading from 1 Thessalonians reminds early Christians to rejoice, pray and give thanks, actions that should be emulated today. Paul also emphasizes prophetic voices as essential to communities, for they often condemn injustice in society. Paul reminds the Thessalonians to test prophetic words, retaining good elements and refraining from evil. Obviously, the point is not solely to pick and choose what is most agreeable. Instead, Paul affirms the importance of critical thinking and discernment to determine what actions promote the common good.
As we journey through Advent, we should carefully consider today’s readings and how they prepare us to encounter Christ on Christmas and always. At this halfway point in Advent, we are called to be Christian witnesses like John the Baptist, heed prophetic voices and rejoice in God’s saving power and love.