By Fr Dumisani Vilakati
- First Reading : Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
- Responsorial Psalm : Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
- Second Reading : 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
- Gospel : John 1:6-8, 19-28
With the Third Sunday of Advent we note that Christmas is very near and thus the readings call upon us to enter into a mood of rejoicing as the entrance antiphon (Phil 4:4) invites us.
The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, tells us of the situation of a happy and rejoicing prophet who has been anointed by the Lord. In those days, being anointed was the preserve of kings and priests. Yet, the prophet without kingly or even priestly lineage receives an anointing from the Lord. In a sense the prophet becomes a Messiah (in Hebrew) a Christ in Greek. The anointing is immediately aggregated to a particular task which is to bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favour from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God. The robes of the anointed of the Lord are resplendent with salvation and justice and indeed as the robes of a bridegroom. This certainly brings joy to the prophet. Ourselves, as the baptised people of God, and having received an anointing from the Lord himself at baptism thus have every duty therefore to rejoice. In a real literal sense, every baptised person is a Messiah, an anointed of the Lord. Indeed by an ancient tradition of the Church, a baptised person is called an alter Christus, another Christ. In this way therefore, we can imitate the prophet and follow the tasks that the Lord set for him so that we can bring joy to so many, especially at this time as we prepare for the birth of Lord.
The psalm is taken from the Magnificat, the song of Mary after Elisabeth had proclaimed her to be the most Blessed among women. Her whole being, due to what the Lord had done, is thus filled with great joy. Indeed, the person who has truly been touched by God is always joyful. Mary reveals Christ in human form to all people and in a sense becomes the first missionary and indeed the model of all missionary work. This work of Mary is marked by joy and thanksgiving as she proclaims that the Lord has done great things for her. Joy is beautiful and beauty attracts. May our joy as Catholics be visible and may this joy be transmitted to all the people we meet at this time of the year.
In the second reading Paul instructs the Thessalonians to rejoice. Rejoicing in this sense is placed together with praying without ceasing. The Thessalonians are further on required to give thanks in all circumstances. This is in spite of the fact that the Church in Thessalonica was going through much suffering and persecutions (Cf. 2 Cor 8:2-5). Yet, Paul exhorts them to rejoice because of the good that they have in Christ. In their moment of suffering, they should rest assured that he who has called them, Christ the Lord, is always faithful.
The gospel once again places into particular prominence the figure of John the Baptist. His mission is clearly indicated, for testimony, to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. Subsequent to this, John faces an avalanche of questions, seven questions to be specific, from the Jews from Jerusalem, the Levites and the Pharisees. We note that the aim of these questions is not to aid their faith but simply as vain questions to fulfil their curiosities. Yet, John remains unmoved in his mission to proclaim Jesus. No one can rob him of his joy to proclaim Christ or the joy of having known him.
John the Baptist proceeds therefore to present Jesus as the bridegroom who is always present among his people and is thus irreplaceable as he testifies that he cannot remove Jesus’ sandals. Indeed, in the Old Testament, (cf. Dt. 25:5-10; Ruth 4:7-12) the rite of levirate (in SiSwati kungenwa kwemfelokati) was symbolised by the removal of the sandal(s) by the one who had a right to inherit his relative’s wife and possessions. This was done in such a way that when the man who had a right to inherit the widow removed his sandal(s) in the presence of the elders he thus indicated that he was not interested in the widow.
This is not to be so with Jesus. He is not going to resign his relationship with us, his bride, the Church. John realises that he cannot in fact rob Jesus of this right which is truly his. Jesus is interested in every person and no one should ever feel outside of Jesus’ sphere of relationships. Nevertheless, we know of so many who feel neglected and thus do not sense that Jesus is interested in them. It is for the baptised, those called another Christ, who have a duty to show that Jesus is interested in them. Whilst Christmas remains a feast for families to come together and rejoice, may we never forget those who are sick at this moment, the dying, the poor, prisoners and all people who are lonely so that we may bring the joy of Christ also to them.
In our Diocese, we observe that many people use the book by Bishop Oswald Hirmer, late Bishop of Mthatha Diocese in South Africa, titled Our Joy in Being Catholic, for faith enrichment. What is this joy? It is that God has chosen us for his Church and given us all that is necessary to be admitted into his eternal kingdom. Unfortunately, this joy is constantly being threatened from every side. Just like the Jerusalemites, Levites and Pharisees of old who asked John the Baptist an avalanche of questions as to his identity and Mission thus also in our times we are constantly being asked questions as to our identity and Mission as Christians. More often than not, these questions are merely to persuade us to abandon the joy we have received in Christ. There are many groups and peoples who want to rob us of the joy we have in Christ. We know that no one can separate us from the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord (Cf. Rom 8:39). May we never depart from the spiritual joys and treasures which were granted to each one of us by the Lord himself at baptism.