Third Sunday of Advent
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Give Witness and Rejoice
The third Sunday of Advent—also known as Gaudete (rejoice)—is one in which the church has rejoiced as the advent of the Messiah draws nearer. Whether or not you mark this Sunday with a pink candle on the wreath, the texts for the day echo this rejoicing, this “we’re almost there” excitement, in a multitude of ways. Isaiah couples images of a people restored with images of weddings and springtime and oak trees. The psalmist offers up images of a harvest festival, and Paul urges us to rejoice “always.”
John the Baptist, in his own way, calls for rejoicing by his acknowledgment that he is not what we are waiting for. John, like us, has a mission to bear witness, but when he says “I am not,” we hear a clear contrast to all the ways Jesus will identify himself with the Father: “I am the bread of life.” “I am the resurrection.” “I am the good shepherd.” All these things Jesus will be for God’s people, but John’s job is simply to bear witness to the light.
How do we bear witness, while still waiting? Or can joy in the midst of waiting be that very witness? In Advent we are not called to act as though we do not know how this story ends, as though Jesus’ birth and life, death and resurrection, are still before us. But we do know that sense of longing for God’s salvation to be fulfilled, and the temptation to imagine that we have to save ourselves, instead of waiting for God’s purposes to be worked out in God’s time. John reminds us that there can be joy in taking our proper place, pointing to Jesus without needing to be Jesus.
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
John’s gospel describes Jesus as the “light of the world.” John the Baptist is presented as a witness to Jesus, one who directs attention away from himself to Christ, the true light.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.