JOY THAT TRANSFORMS – Third Sunday of Advent, Year C

December 12, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6 (6)
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

By this point in December, we’ve all heard this song assuring us that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” With Christmas less than two weeks away, there is a widespread expectation that people should all “be of good cheer.”

And yet this is often the most difficult season for people whose lives don’t fit into the world portrayed in heartwarming made-for-TV movies, glowing holiday ads, or cheery songs. Many people live with violence, warfare, abuse, hunger, poverty, unemployment, or discrimination. Still others are experiencing personal struggles, such as grief, addiction, illness, or relationships that are strained or broken.

Amid so much pain, suffering, and brokenness in our lives and in the world, today’s Scriptures proclaim joy. Paul urges the members of his beloved community in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Even as he wrote from prison, the apostle calls for rejoicing in the Lord.

Paul instructs the Philippians—and us—to rejoice because “[t]he Lord is near” (4:5). The joy of Advent springs not from “the pursuit of happiness” but from the recognition that God has already come among us—it is a gift, not an achievement. If we are attentive, we can discern the signs of divine presence in the world at this very moment—in people and events, in beauty and acts of kindness, in our praying and our singing together. That sense of joy in nearness can be seen vividly in this weekend’s celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe among many Latin American Christians. Opening our eyes to God’s coming among us allows us to rejoice always, even in times of difficulty or struggle.

Joy in God’s nearness calls us to be transformed both within and without. It allows us to let go of anxiety, to live in gratitude and trust, and to turn over our needs and our lives to God in prayer. At the same time, it moves us to bear fruit for others, letting our “gentleness be known to everyone” (4:5).

Our joy is expressed in lives of justice and in concrete acts of kindness and generosity. In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist describes some of the very practical yet significant ways in which the coming of Christ should lead us to bear fruit, as he exhorts the crowds to share and the tax collectors and soldiers to treat people with honesty (Lk 3:10-14).

And so, let us rejoice not just today but always, recognizing that the Holy One is here among us at this very moment. May rejoicing fill up our anxious hearts and may others also come to recognize God’s presence as we live in that joy. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

A Hymn for Today: “Surely It Is God Who Saves Me”

In place of a psalm, the Lectionary today appoints a canticle from Isaiah that calls us to rejoice in God’s nearness: “Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Is 12:7). This metrical version by Carl P. Daw, Jr., FHS, was created for The Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church (USA) and has appeared in several other hymnals.

Surely it is God who saves me;
I shall trust and have no fear;
For the Lord defends and shields me,
And his saving help is near.
So rejoice as you draw water
From salvation’s healing spring;
In the day of your deliv’rance
Thank the Lord, his mercies sing.

Make God’s deeds know to the peoples;
Tell out his exalted Name.
Praise the Lord, who has done great things;
All his works God’s might proclaim.
Zion, lift your voice in singing;
For with you has come to dwell,
In your very midst, the great and
Holy One of Israel.

Text: Isaiah 12:1-6; Carl P. Daw, Jr., b. 1944. © 1982, 1990, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Joy on young kids faces, Nathanael Bakare, 2019, Wikimed

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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