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Victor Cancino, S.J.December 14, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

As liturgical celebrations approach Christmas, the readings for the third Sunday of Advent draw attention to the connection between belief and praise. This day is called Gaudete Sunday, taking its name from the Latin imperative, “Rejoice!” A curious pairing occurs towards the end of the first reading, “The Lord God makes justice and praise spring up before all the nations” (Is 61:11). The phrase “justice and praise” suggests that one follows the other. If there is justice, there is reason for praise. The converse is also true: The act of praise is a kind of justice.  

As a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. (Is 61:11)

Liturgical day
Third Sunday of Advent
Is 61:1-11, Lk 1:46-54, 1 Thes 5:16-24, Jn 1:6-28

How do you understand the connection between justice and praise?

How do you find reasons for joy in a world that seems to abound with injustice?

If you wanted to share one aspect of the Christian belief to a friend, what would that be?


Part of biblical justice is knowing what to believe and understanding the basic tenets of one’s faith. Within this Sunday’s New Testament readings are short statements that probably represented early Christian credal formulas: “The one who calls you is faithful,” or “He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” In this Sunday’s responsorial canticle, Luke the Evangelist recognizes the synthesis between creed and action, justice and joy, “My spirit rejoices in God my savior… he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”

This Sunday’s first reading is a passage from the prophecy of Isaiah that Jesus later made his own vision for public ministry. “The Lord has anointed me,” reads Isaiah, “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoner” (Is 61:1; see also Lk 4:18). These imperatives - to announce, to heal, to proclaim freedom and to release - were deeply embedded in the practice of Israel’s faith, and they became fundamental to the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed. The joy that the Gospel inspired echoes throughout the books of the New Testament. 

These “glad tidings” belong to anyone whose life mirrors Christ’s Gospel of justice and reveals his love for the poor.

This Sunday’s responsorial canticle comes from a passage called “Mary’s Magnificat” in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel. In response to the announcement from God’s messenger, the archangel Gabriel, Mary gives praise to God. “He has filled the hungry with good things,” she sings, “and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy” (Lk 1:53-54). Again, one can hear in Mary’s song the ancient statement of Israel’s deepest belief: God comes to “help” Israel and “remembers” the promise of mercy. When Mary experiences personally what Israel has always trusted in faith, she finds reason for praise and rejoicing.

In a somewhat different context, this Sunday’s Gospel reading also speaks about belief through witness and testimony. John the Baptist downplays his own ministerial role in order to “testify to the light.” The passage reads, “He was not the light, but came to testify to the light” (Jn 1:8). In order to keep the focus on John the Baptist’s witness, the lectionary omits John 1:9-18. These verses expand on the evangelist’s theme of Christ as light. When “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” then “we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Christ’s light reveals the Father’s glory. Just so, anyone who witnesses to Christ through action and belief reveals God’s glory.

The fourth Gospel repeats the theme of “light” six times in its opening chapter. This is John the evangelist’s attempt to transmit a part of an early Christian belief: The “light” is the One who became flesh, lived among us, and helped us to understand God. This revelation allows us to anticipate our Christmas joy even during these remaining days of Advent. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” says Isaiah, “because he has anointed me and has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Is 61:1). These “glad tidings” belong to anyone whose life mirrors Christ’s Gospel of justice and reveals his love for the poor.

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