Friday, December 11, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Third Sunday of Advent
13 December AD 2009

Gaudete in Domino

The traditional theme of this Sunday is Joy, and its traditional name is “Gaudete in domino”, which means “Rejoice in the Lord!”. It is taken from the fourth chapter of Philippians, which is the traditional Epistle for this Sunday in the Roman rite, and from which the introit antiphon is taken. The rose-coloured vestments used today in some places and the rose or pink candle in the Advent wreath are signs of this joy.
In the Book of Common Prayer, the Philippians passage is read on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, not the Third: it appears that the compilers were following the Sarum use, but whether this or the Roman was the original is unknown. For the Sarum Use see

First Reading: Zephaniah 3.14-20.

Zephaniah proclaimed the word of the Lord in Judah in the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC), who made a serious attempt to undo the apostasy of his father and grandfather (2 Kings 21-22; 2 Chronicles 33-35). Zpehaniah seems to have preached before Josiah began his reforms.
The Book of Zephaniah traces the prophet’s genealogy back four generations to Hezekiah. Since the faily of no other prophet is traced so far, and the name Hezekiah is uncommon in the Scriptures, it is generally taken that Zephaniah was a descendent of King Hezekiah (715-687 BC) and a second cousin once removed of Josiah.
Zephaniah proclaims judgement on Judah for idolatry, a judgement which was extended to other nations in the second chapter. The third chapter opens with a stern warning against rebellion and sin, but promises comfort and consolation to those who wait patiently for the Lord. The book ends with today’s reading, a promise of the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem and a triumphant summons to rejoicing.
Note the repeated declaration: “the Lord is in your midst” (verses 15, 17). The presence of the Lord is likewise declared in Psalms 46 and 48 (“Zion Psalms).
In both this reading and the Canticle is found the expressions “in that day” and “at that time”, which are used in the prophetic writings to refer to the Day of the Lord, which comes to mean the end of the era, and to refer to the coming of the Messiah.

Canticle : Isaiah 12.2-6, A Song of Salvation.

Shout aloud and sing for joy … for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel! The first reading’s themes of joy and the divine presence are echoed in the Canticle from Isaiah.

Philippians 4.4-9.

Rejoice! The RCL commentary notes that this “is the conventional Greek salutation (like our goodbye) but here Paul means ‘rejoice’ literally.” This seems to me to put the point backwards. It would be better to say that the word χαίρω, chairō, means ‘to rejoice, be glad’’ it is from the noun χαρά, chara, which means ‘joy’; like “hail!” it came to be used in Greek as a salutation and farewell. That it was rendered by “Gaudete” in the Vulgate would suggest that this verse was not in ancient times understood to be a salutation. Perhaps if one wanted to capture all the nuances, one might use “Cheers!” but this would hardly do in Church.
A more serious question that arises is the call to rejoice always. If we think of joy as a mood, this is something impossible: joy will not come for the asking. But the epistle calls us to rejoice in the Lord always. The attitude of joy begins with the thankful remembering of what God has done for us. Indeed, it is worth pondering the fact that the Greek words for ‘joy’ and ‘thanks’ are from the same root, which also gives us the word for ‘grace’. We should also remember that our Christian life is a shared life, and at times when grief weighs individuals down, the strength of the whole community bears them up, and they remember that we are called to share the life of Christ, “who for the joy that was before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.2). It is to Christ that we give all that burden us, making our requests known and seeking the peace of God.
Where Zephaniah and Isaiah speak of the Lord “in your midst” Paul here speaks of the Lord as “near” or “at hand”, which echoes the Aramaic prayer of the early church, Marana tha, “come Lord” (1 Corinthians 16:22 see also Revelation 22:20).

Luke 3.7-18

The Gospel of the preaching of John the Baptist continues, with a summary of his preaching. Two very important themes of the Gospel are given prominence in Luke’s account of the Baptist. One is the universality of God’s redeeming love. For it is all the people who go out to hear the word and seek the baptism of repentance. Luke generally uses the word ὄχλος, ‘crowd’ as a synonym for λαος, ‘people’ (not in the loose modern sense of a number of individuals, but in the strict sense of the populace), thereby giving a wider scope than Matthew, where John is speaking to Pharisees and Sadducees. Luke will later make it clear enough that the Pharisees and Sadducees rejected John’s teaching; now he is concerned with those who accept it. The other theme is the reversal of expectations & God’s love for the despised. This is seen in the two groups among the crowd who are singled out, the tax-collectors and the soldiers. Later on in the Gospel both tax collectors and soldiers (officers, indeed) will be among those who hear and approve the teaching of Jesus.
Three times in this passage the question is asked which anyone who accepts the Gospel must ask: “What the should we do?” It is not enough simply to hear and say, “That sounds nice!” or “There’s a lot of sense in that!” The call is to repent, that is turn around, change your mind and heart: it is natural to ask what this means in practice.
What John does not say is, “You must give up your life and come to live in the desert, as I do,” or “You must abstain from wine and strong drink, as I do,” or even “You must fast and pray, as I do”. What he says is very simple: people are to make proper use of their material possessions (such as cloaks and food), using them to help those in need; those in positions of authority are to act justly and honestly.
However, John did not have the last word: he came pointing beyond himself to the one mightier than he. Repentance, turning around, is not the end of the Gospel. Luke tells us that John proclaimed the Good News to the people, and he did. But when Jesus came proclaiming the Good News he said not only, “Repent and believe in the gospel;” he also said, “Follow me!”.
Just so the answer to “What then should we do?” changes as the full Gospel of Christ is revealed. Today we hear the Baptist’s answer: when the same question is put to St Peter and the Eleven on the Day of Pentecost there is a new answer: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

It's nearly five o'clock on Friday afternoon, and time to stop so that you might have a chance to think about the readings before Sunday. As always, the notes at the Revised Common Lectionary Site are a good help tpo understanding the readings. See:


Felicity Pickup said...


aaronorear said...

Very. I often find here the linchpin that hooks together my disorganized thoughts. This is especially true for a second helping of John the Baptist.

Felicity Pickup said...

Yes, that definitely helped at Mass yesterday(Sunday)morning, especially as I had hit the "snooze" button once too often and got to my pew au dernier moment.