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Sunday Scripture: The Lord your God is in your midst

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

By Sister Betty J. Lillie, S.C.

Third Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

As we draw closer to the celebration of Christmas the coming of the Messiah is a continuing emphasis in the Scripture passages used in the liturgy. In our Gospel reading a sense of expectancy leads the people to wonder if John himself is actually the Christ. But John points consistently to One who will come after him who is mightier than he is, and who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). That was the good news that John preached.

If we reach back to the oracles of Zephaniah from which our first reading is taken, the first two chapters take up the themes of doom and judgment.  Our reading from the third chapter turns to comfort and consolation for those who wait for the Lord and serve Him in good faith by a virtuous life.  It works out of the historical situation of the return of the Babylonian exiles to their homeland and to Jerusalem, and thus of the restoration of God’s people. A turnabout in the fortunes of Israel would take place so that God would no longer look upon the rebellion of the people, and the judgments against them would be taken away. The Lord who was in their midst would rejoice over them and renew them in His love.

At the same time the people would return and also rejoice as at the time of a festival celebration. The psalm-like poem that continues to the end of Zephaniah’s oracles is reminiscent of the psalms of the Lord’s enthronement among His people. Their ingathering and the restoration of their good fortune would make them renowned and praised among the peoples of the earth. Thus some see here a fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant through which God’s people would be a great nation with a great name. They would be blessed, and they would be a blessing to others. In them all the peoples of the earth would bless themselves (Genesis 12:2-3).

Our psalm response is a beautiful passage from First Isaiah. Since it is in poetic form it serves well as a responsorial prayer. Among the oracles of the prophet is a section called the Book of Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:1-12:6), which presents glorious praises of a messianic king who would be God with them (Isaiah 8:10). It is easy for us to apply these characteristics to Jesus and we can give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His name in all the earth. As Isaiah said, the Holy One is in our midst. We can shout and sing for joy (Isaiah 12:1-6).

Paul’s advice to the Philippians fits very well into our Advent thinking.  The Lord is at hand. Rejoice! Have no anxiety! It would be interesting to speculate on what Paul would say about the anxieties of this season of preparations for Christmas: gifts to buy, parties to plan, decorations and on and on. If we could have no anxieties about anything, maybe we would be more free to rejoice, and in a thankful spirit to rest in the peace of God, keeping our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).

In the spirit of Isaiah we can say that God is our salvation; we will trust and not be afraid (Isaiah 12:2).

Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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