Life & Soul

The Word this week

St John the Baptist (c 1600), by El Greco)

Third Sunday of Advent
Zeph 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18 (Year C)

 ”Truly, God is my salvation; I trust, I shall not fear. For the Lord is my strength, my song, he became my saviour. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

The responsorial psalm articulates the mounting joy with which the Third Sunday of Advent leads us ever closer to the celebration of Christmas. The Prophet Zephaniah, speaking to exiles returning to a Jerusalem laid in ruins, leads us in this chorus of mounting joy: “Shout for joy daughter of Zion. Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has repealed your sentence; he has driven your enemies away.”

In her return from the Babylonian exile, Israel had received the promise of a new beginning that she had scarcely thought possible. Through many centuries this people had become only too familiar with their own frailty. They had witnessed the promises made to Abraham, Moses and David. Time and again they had declared themselves to be a people faithful to their God, only to be undermined by their own sinfulness. What promise could possibly change this depressing cycle of infidelity?

Zephaniah’s summons to joy emphasised what would be the foundation of their hope. If in the past they had relied on the failing resolution of sinful hearts, now they would draw strength from the God in their midst. “The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst, you have no evil to fear, do let your hands grow limp. He will exult with joy over you, he will renew you with his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.”

We, no less than the children of Israel, long for a new beginning. We should never allow the mounting tempo of pre-Christmas festivities and preparations to divert us from what needs to change in our own lives. It is in such longing for change that the Lord comes to greet us.

When confronted with the mounting expectations of the people, John the Baptist counselled them to continue living virtuous lives. Tax collectors were to exact no more than their rate. Soldiers were to carry out their duties without intimidation.

We also, in fidelity to love’s daily demands, will best prepare to celebrate the coming festival. In this we have the advantage of a promise made to John and fulfilled in our baptism: “Someone is coming, someone more powerful than I am. He will baptise you with water and the Holy Spirit.”

In the days that remain to Christmas let us allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into Christ’s new beginning, his presence among us.