JOY – Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

December 11, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 (see Is 35:4)
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Are you feeling joyful at this moment? I’m guessing that many who are reading or hearing these words may be able to answer with a resounding “yes,” but probably not all. There are many among us who may find it difficult to hear, much less heed, the call to rejoice. Some of us are struggling with brokenness, pain, or disappointment in our own lives, while some others are overwhelmed by news of gun violence, abuse, mistreatment, or disasters in the world around us. Still others find that the expectation of cheeriness and excitement at this time of year only amplifies feelings of sadness or loneliness.

The invitation to rejoice that we hear today does not disregard or discount the human experience of suffering. This Sunday’s reading from the prophet Isaiah is addressed to a people in captivity who long for their homeland, while in today’s Gospel reading we find John the Baptist in prison. What cause for joy could there possibly be in these difficult situations?

Isaiah offers a word of hope to people in exile, declaring that water will spring up so that even the parched, dry desert “will rejoice with joy and singing” (Is 35:2). Even though their dreams were shattered, their national identity destroyed, and their lives upended, God is coming among this people in captivity to do something new: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. . . . He will come and save you’” (Is 35:3-4).

God’s presence will bring about real change—sight for the blind, hearing for the deaf, dancing for those unable to walk, joyful singing for those unable to speak. Best of all, those in exile will “come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is 35:10). Isaiah proclaims to a people in exile exuberant joy rooted in hope.

As John the Baptist sat languishing in prison, he may well have been having second thoughts about Jesus and the promise of deliverance that he himself had proclaimed. And so, John sent disciples to communicate his query, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Mt 11:3) While Isaiah had invited his hearers to look beyond their current situation to the promise of a new day, Jesus tells the disciples of John to look around and see the change that is taking place right before their eyes: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt 11:5). The coming of God’s reign is not merely a distant hope but is already present in the person, preaching, and works of Jesus.

Today’s Scriptures invite us to a different kind of joy from the gladness that we see all around us at this time of the year in advertising and holiday specials. The joy of Advent springs not from warm feelings or cozy togetherness but rather from hope and attentiveness to God’s coming. Are the eyes of our hearts open to see in our lives, in our communities, and in our world that God is among us right now? When refugees and strangers are welcomed, when hungry people are fed, when unhoused families find homes, when prisoners are set free, when the grieving are comforted, there are the signs of God’s coming among us.

Whether we are feeling happy at this moment or not, we can nonetheless experience the joy that accompanies hope and awareness of God’s coming among us at every moment. Today’s invitation to joy is coupled with a call to action, as rejoicing bids us to share in the mission of Christ in the ordinariness of everyday, offering reassurance to those who are fearful and compassion to those in need.

Rejoice! The Lord is near.

A Hymn for Today: “Sing, My Soul” (Mary’s Song of Praise)

The Revised Common Lectionary offers the Magnificat (Lk 1:46b-55) as an alternative to Psalm 146. In both texts the singing community offers joyful praise to God who is present and acting on behalf of those most in need.

Chicago hymn writer, composer, church musician, editor, and Hymn Society member Alan J. Hommerding has created this paraphrase of the Magnificat that expresses a joy based on confidence and trust in God who is present to act with power for the powerless and lowly. Because the Magnificat is used for the daily celebration of evening prayer, Hommerding has added to this paraphrase a doxology (stanza 3).

Sing, my soul, sing out your praises;
Sing, for God exalted me.
Looking on this lowly servant,
All shall bless me tenderly.
Mighty God has shown great favor,
Holy is that wondrous name.
Merciful to all earth’s children,
Age to age, God loves the same.

Hearts of pride our God will scatter,
Haughty ones will be cast down,
Raising those who once were lowly,
Feeding all who are God’s own.
Israel, upheld in mercy,
Knows the heav’nly, promised grace
Giv’n to Abraham and Sarah,
Parents of our chosen race.

Glory be to God almighty,
Guiding us in perfect love.
Glory be to Jesus, Savior,
God’s own Word from heav’n above.
Glory be to God the Spirit,
Mighty wind and burning fire.
Saints and sinners, join in singing
With the blest celestial choir.

Text: Alan J. Hommerding, b. 1956. © 1994, WLP, a division of GIA Publications. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Complete Joy, Lauren Wright Pittman, 2018

“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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