Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Dec. 17, 2017First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Watch as the Advent candle is lighted on Sunday: The one pink candle, a symbol of rejoicing, marks this day. Midway through Advent, our readings shift from a focus on the fire and upheaval of an apocalyptic Judgement Day toward a different kind of hope, a joyful hope that looks forward to God’s restorative justice that will come with the Messiah. The Prophet Isaiah – writing prophecy that Jesus will later declare fulfilled in his presence when he speaks in the synagogue at Nazareth – tells the people that God will comfort all who mourn. God’s good news will come to the poor, the oppressed, captives and prisoners, turning their state to gladness instead of mourning.
Psalm: Psalm 126
As Isaiah told the people in exile of God’s promise that justice and righteousness would be restored, the Psalmist sings that God’s promise was in fact fulfilled, that God has indeed done great things for Zion, the mountain in Jerusalem where the Temple stood, and thus, if frequent biblical metaphor, the Temple itself. Every verse of this short Psalm contains a shout of laughter, joy, gladness, and praise. God has been good. God has turned the people’s tears into songs of joy; their weeping into a bountiful harvest.
Alternative to the Psalm: Luke 1:46-55 (Canticle 15)
As an optional alternative to the Psalm, we may sing the Magnificat, the beautiful Song of Mary. In Luke’s Gospel Mary bursts into this powerful song when she greets her relative, Elizabeth. Elizabeth with John the Baptist, feels the infant move with joy inside her when the pregnant Mary comes in. Elizabeth declares Mary the blessed mother of God, full of grace. In response, Mary sings these startlingly radical verses that echo Isaiah and foreshadow Jesus’ own teaching; liberating verses that praise a God who scatters the proud, casts down the mighty, and sends the rich away hungry, while filling the hungry with good things.
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Paul concludes his short first letter to the Thessalonians with themes consistent with those that we heard in the first readings from 1 Corinthians and 2 Peter on the first two Sundays of Advent. He urges the people to rejoice always, pray unceasingly, and give thanks for all things, staying faithful and filled with the Spirit. Hold fast to the good and abstain from every kind of evil, he urges them, so they will be ready, “sound and blameless,” when Jesus Christ returns.
Gospel: John 1:6-8,19-28
Following the story of John the Baptist in Mark’s Gospel last Sunday, we now turn to the Gospel according to John. This version makes no mention of the Baptist’s attire or his dietary preferences, but opens into a tense scene in which the Temple authorities, worried about the noisy crowds surrounding John, want to know who he is. He is neither a new prophet nor Elijah, John says, but – quoting from the Isaiah verses that we heard last week – the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling on the people to make straight the way of the Lord. He baptizes with water, John says, to make way for the one who is coming after him, who is so much greater that John is unworthy to untie his sandals.