For December 11, 2011: 3 Advent, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Today’s reading from Isaiah addresses the dashed hopes of people who have returned to a shattered Jerusalem, to build their hope. On this Rose Sunday in Advent, we read this passage as a prophecy of the coming of Jesus—but if we took the opening verses also as our commission to be Jesus’ hands and feet, how might that change the world?

 

The Epistle            1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

The first letter that Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonike may be the oldest book of the New Testament. In today’s reading, from the end of the letter, Paul gives terse but well-thought advice on how to be the church in the world.

 

Further thoughts

An urban-farming friend of mine, who lives in the hills overlooking El Cajon, reported with some shock this week that there has been frost on her lettuces. Winter nights now keep getting darker and longer—and colder, even in this Mediterranean climate. But we look forward to the turn of the year, and as we celebrate Rose Sunday this week we look with eagerness to the light of Christmas.

Our readings this Sunday glow with this growing light and hope.

Last week’s reading from Isaiah, chapter 40, lyrically promised comfort and good news to God’s people in exile. Isaiah builds on that dawning of good news with a more specific set of promises as to what God and God’s unnamed messenger will do and for whom. He calls us to work in God’s name for justice in this world—“the year of the Lord’s favor” in Israel meant a jubilee year, in which slaves were to be set free, debts were to be forgiven, and property that had been sold by desperate families was to be restored to them. Imagine that! Imagine the joy of those released from bondage and want, and imagine the joy of helping God bring it about!

Indeed, imagine the lowly, the hungry, the needy, and the meek getting the good things—and you imagine the world that Mary proclaims in Canticle 15 as she accepts the astonishing commission to be the mother of God.

How do we get to this world? Paul offers us advice, at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians, that reads like the terse, hurried, loving advice one gives one’s offspring at the very last moment before parting: Rejoice; pray; be thankful; listen to prophets but don’t be taken in by fakes; be (and do) good. We all need these reminders from time to time. Moreover, as John the Baptizer reminds us, one does not need to be the Messiah in order to act as one sent by God. That’s a promise and a calling for all of us.

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