Scripture Readings: Prophet Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; First Letter to the Thessalonians 5:16-24; Gospel According to Saint John 1:6-8, 19-28

The Church’s Old Testament “prophet of choice” for the Advent season is Isaiah, from the eigth century before Christ. And the choice of Isaiah is obvious. The Prophet Isaiah consistently announced the mission he had received from God, to proclaim the good news of liberation for God’s people. “The Spirit of the Lord” rested upon the prophet, we are told, indicating that God’s power had been given to the prophet to direct and strengthen him as God’s spokesman. The Advent message is likewise centered on liberation of the human race by the coming of Jesus Christ.

Speaking in the name of and with the authority of the Covenant-God who always remains faithful is an awesome responsibility. Even so, Isaiah rose to the occasion and referred to as being anointed, a term that throughout the Bible means possessing a very specific mission for the good of God’s people.

Another way to express the notion of anointing, which may or may not include a ritual action with oil, means to be chosen, dedicated and appointed, by God. In the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaiah was entrusted with a divine mission. Christians often think of the same word “anointed” in relation to Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed, as the Redeemer of the human race.

Advent is the time of year when we are encouraged to contemplate the mystery of our salvation, found in no one else than the Lord of Lord and King of Kings, Jesus Christ. In the synagogue of Nazareth, as Jesus began his public ministry, he read aloud and commented on the same text of Isaiah that we hear this Sunday, regarding being anointed by God and announcing a very specific message: good tidings to those estranged from God, intended for all who “labor and are heavy burdened,” who can find rest in God alone.

Looking at the second Scripture reading for Mass this Sunday, and flowing from what has been said above, we hear Saint Paul advising the Thessalonians with three main points: always be joyful, never stop praying and be thankful in every circumstance of life. These essential attitudes need to be cultivated at all times, in order to replace the human tendencies toward preoccupation, anxiety and laziness. It is God’s grace which enables believers, and each of us, to live up to the call we have been given, in such a manner that, as Saint Paul expresses it, we may be found “blameless at the coming of the Lord.”

The Gospel text for this Sunday contains two sections. The first is devoted to an introduction to the mission of the last of the prophets, Saint John the Baptist, and the second section is concerned with how John the Baptist witnesses to Christ, the Anointed Messiah.

We are told in the Gospel that John the Baptist was a man sent by God, entrusted with a mission like the prophets of old. The life of John and all the divine messengers is characterized by an absolute dedication to the mission they have been given. Their own person disappears behind the One who sent them. In the words of John the Baptist: “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease.

The Baptist completed the cycle begun by the prophet Elijah. Just as Elijah announced the arrival of God’s kingdom, John the Baptist was the first to proclaim God’s promise of the Redeemer Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew name John the Baptist, Jo-hanan, means “God is merciful.” Out of love and mercy God raised up an envoy, John, for a world indifferent and even hostile to the message of salvation. Jesus faced the same in his public ministry. John’s mission was to “prepare the way of the Lord,” which in fact cost John his life. Jesus met the same rejection as well.

In today’s Gospel passage, John is discussing with a group of Pharisees and assures them he is not the Messiah, the Christ. Nonetheless, John was baptizing people in the Jordan River. This is part of the process of preparing for the One already in their midst, Jesus, who would be baptizing in the Holy Spirit, but not yet recognized by the Pharisees and others.

The portrait of John the Baptist in the Gospels is of a prophet completely conscious of the true nature of his vocation, as a forerunner, one who goes ahead, sent to prepare the way, but as a servant, not as the master. John sees himself as ready and willing for the lowest menial service. “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandal of the Master,” he says. The one desire of the Baptist was to prepare hearts for the coming of the Messiah, principally by their fasting and repentance. John points all those who hear him to follow the One Leader, Jesus, not John.

The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday, coming from the Latin words, “everyone rejoice!,” which are the opening words of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass this Sunday. Advent is half way over and there is a theme this day of not being discouraged or afraid, even amidst setbacks, including the current world crisis.

Everyone needs to know that our God will surely come to save us. Even if discouraged along the way, we strive never to give up on the one true God, who never leaves his flock unattended. We greatly and gladly rejoice, for our salvation is near at hand. As baptized and committed believers we never finish growing. It is a life-long process, but we never do it alone. For this we give thanks and bow before the Majesty of God.

Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB