Advent 3C (16 December 2012)



  • Zephaniah 3:14-20 & Isaiah 12:2-6
  • Philippians 4:4-7
  • Luke 3:7-18


The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as “Gaudete Sunday” from the opening word (“Rejoice!) in the Latin entrance antiphons for this day:

Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I say, rejoice!
The Lord is near.

This association is also seen in the 16C Christmas carol, Gaudete.

In some communities the shift in tone for this Sunday is reflected in the use of a rose or pink coloured candle in the Advent Wreath, or the use of pink vestments.

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20

The reading from Zephaniah is clearly chosen for its fit with today’s theme of rejoicing in the imminent deliverance to be achieved by the coming Lord:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

The ancient hopes captured in Zephaniah were originally more immediate and political than the usual eschatological and cosmic hopes associated with Advent in Christian communities. The imagery comes from the victory celebrations of tribal conflict, as the booty is divided between victors and people—who had feared the worst—express their joy at the favorable turn of events.

In the case of Zephaniah even the lame and the outcasts share in the celebrations, as they also experience a reversal of fortune due to the intervention of the warrior God.

Something of the same reversal is celebrated in the two great Christian songs found in Luke’s Gospel: the Song of Zechariah (Benedictus, Luke 1:68-79) and the Song of Mary (Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55. Luke has either created or co-opted two ancient poems that have subsequently shaped the Christian imagination so powerfully. At the heart of both songs is the idea of God reversing the fortunes of the poor and giving hope to those without any prospects.

In Christian tradition there remains a strand of violence as the basis for the celebration of deliverance and reversal, but the violence can also be understood as inflicted on God and embraced by God rather than prescribed or executed by God and inflicted upon others. This is another kind of reversal; a reversal in which violence is eschewed and suffering for other is embraced as the path to salvation and deliverance. Rejoice, indeed. Our deliverance is at hand.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

The choice of this passage for today’s second reading is hardly surprising. The entrance antiphon had already come from this passage, so reading the complete paragraph was an obvious choice for the lectionary committee:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: John and Jesus

This is the second of the two Sundays of Advent that are usually devoted to John the Baptist. The following table of JESUS SEMINAR votes concerning John may be a useful way to explore further his significance within Second Temple Judaism and within the Christian tradition.

It could be an interesting exercise to weave these historical judgments into a (hopefully) coherent sketch of a historical John the Baptist. One could begin with what seem to be the most certain elements (those voted Red) to form the core, and then work through the Pink items (those with a certain probability) before adding any elements voted Gray that seem to be coherent with the Red and Pink items.

Items voted RED: high probability of historical authenticity

  • JBap’s characteristic activities took place in the wilderness
  • JBap was part of a broader baptizing phenomenon or movement
  • JBap’s time overlaps that of Jesus
  • JBap’s locale overlaps that of Jesus
  • JBap preached
  • JBap baptized with water
  • JBap taught repentance
  • JBap preached baptism
  • JBap’s baptism was understood to express repentance
  • JBap administered baptism himself
  • JBap’s exhortations and activities had a widespread appeal.

Items voted PINK: reasonable probability of historical authenticity

  • JBap’s baptism was a form of Jewish immersion rite
  • JBap’s baptism was done in flowing water
  • JBap’s baptism was understood to mediate God’s forgiveness
  • JBap’s baptism was understood to be a protest against the temple establishment
  • JBap’s baptism was understood to purify from uncleanness
  • JBap’s baptism was understood as an initiation into a Jewish sectarian movement
  • JBap spoke the words in Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16b and Matt 3:11b
  • JBap spoke the words in Luke 3:17 and Matt 3:12
  • In response, people repented
  • In response, people were baptized
  • JBap had disciples
  • Pharisees came to hear JBap
  • Sadducees came to hear JBap
  • Toll collectors came to hear JBap
  • Soldiers came to hear JBap
  • JBap acted as a prophet
  • JBap was an apocalyptic preacher

Items voted GRAY: reflect a later Christian perspective but may preserve authentic information about John

  • JBap’s baptism was understood to foreshadow an expected figure’s baptism
  • JBap spoke the words in Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16a,c and Matt 3:11a,c
  • JBap spoke the words in Luke 3:7-9 and Matt 3:7-10
  • JBap spoke the words in Luke 3:11
  • JBap spoke the words in Luke 3:13
  • JBap spoke the words in Luke 3:14
  • JBap was a former Essene
  • JBap imitated Elijah
  • Jesus began his public ministry at the time JBap was imprisoned

Items voted BLACK: unlikely to preserve authentic information about John

  • JBap taught repentance apart from baptism
  • Mark 1:4 and Matt 3:2 summarize the message of JBap
  • JBap spoke the words reported in John 1:15
  • JBap spoke the words reported in John 1:23
  • JBap spoke the words reported in John 1:29
  • JBap spoke the words reported in John 1:32-34
  • JBap spoke the words reported in John 3:27-30
  • JBap was an Essene
  • JBap was a member (or former member) of the Qumran community
  • JBap was a lone Jewish sage or holy man (like Bannus)
  • JBap was perceived as a hellenistic moralist

Other questions to consider as part of this exercise:

  • Could the same person reasonably be thought to embrace all the ideas attributed to John by the later Christian descriptions of him? In particular, if John was the kind of character captured by the data voted Red or Pink, could the data voted Black also be true of him?
  • Can you imagine Jesus as a disciple of the John the Baptist sketched by your own characterization?
  • Can you imagine “your John the Baptist” as the spiritual mentor of Jesus?
  • Is it appropriate to list John the Baptist as one of the saints of the Christian faith?
  • What significance does John the Baptist have for your own faith journey?
  • Which aspects of John’s message seem relevant this Advent?

Other online resources about John the Baptist:

Key printed resources:

  • John Dominic Crossan (1991), The Historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. (HarperCollins) [see esp. “John and Jesus,” pp. 227-64
  • John P. Meier (1994), A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. II: Mentor, Message, and Miracles. (Anchor Bible Reference Library) Doubleday.
  • W. Barnes Tatum (1994), John the Baptist and Jesus. A report of the Jesus Seminar. Polebridge Press.

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

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