National Catholic Reporter ®
115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
Web address:

The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted.  From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week.
NOTE:  The homilies are available five days after they are given, always on Friday. 
December 15, 2002
Third Sunday of Advent

This week's readings **

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, "Who are you?" He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, "I am not the Christ."

So they asked him, "What are you then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?" He said: "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said." Some Pharisees were also sent.  They asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?"
John answered them, "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie." This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).


We are all aware, Iím sure, that the word of God is a living word.  Even though it was spoken so long ago, itís always a word that is being spoken to us at this very moment. Today, if we listen deeply to Godís word, weíll discover something that will give us a deep sense of hope and a real reason for the joy that this Sunday calls forth. 

     And, probably, this word of God will provide a challenge to us.

     If we listen carefully to that first lesson today and understand the circumstances in which Isaiah was proclaiming this word, it was to a people who had been in exile for decades. Their land had been overrun, their crops had been burned, their animals killed and theyíd been driven away out of their homes. A few of them had returned, kind of like pioneers coming back. The exile was going to be over. But they found everything in desolation and they were terribly poor and still feeling the oppression of that exile.

     But then Isaiah says to them, ďLook, the spirit of God is upon me.Ē  That means God is in our midst. And this God tells us that good news is coming to the poor. They will be lifted up again. ďThe oppressors will be overthrown. The downtrodden will be set free. The blind, those who canít see, will be given new sight.Ē

     Isaiah promises all this because Godís spirit is in their midst.

     And because they heard that word and were confident, they began to hope and to build on that hope and restore their cities and their temple.  All that had God had promised began to be true.

     Godís word is a living word, itís a word with power, and it makes happen what that word declares.

     And the same thing comes through so powerfully and so clearly in the response that we had after our first reading.  If you were listening to the words that Keir Ward (a parishioner) was singing, they all come from the first chapter of St. Lukeís gospel, when shortly after Mary has been told that she is to be the mother of the Messiah and that she had experienced the spirit of God coming upon her and bringing this new life of Jesus within her.  Mary proclaims those words that we know so well, ďMy soul exalts and proclaims the greatness of God; because God has looked upon me, Godís lowly servant.Ē 

     And think of this. Mary was simply a young peasant girl, totally unknown, living in a very small village, in a very remote part of the world. Nothing famous or important about her and, yet, she says, ďBecause Godís spirit is within me, people will forever call me blessed.Ē 

     And thatís happened, hasnít it?  What God says will happen, happens; because the spirit of God and Godís word is a word of power.  Godís spirit makes happen what God proclaims.

     And Mary goes on to say, ďFrom age to age, Godís mercy extends to those who live in Godís presence. God acts with power and does wonders, scatters the proud with their plans, puts down the mighty, but lifts up the lowly and the poor.Ē

     Again, almost the same message that Isaiah was proclaiming.  And, in Mary, all of this became true. Again, Godís word is a word that always makes happen what that word proclaims.

     And in Johnís gospel that we read today, John tells us, as he was telling those people who came to him when they asked, ďWho are you?Ē and he said, ďWell, Iím not the messiah, Iím not Elijah, Iím not the prophet.  Iím only a voice crying out in the wilderness in a world where people arenít too willing to listen. But I cry out and I tell you Iím here to point out somebody.  And that very person is already in your midst, you just donít know him.Ē

** NOTE: Bishop Gumbleton referred to Luke instead of John because the Magnificat was sung as a response before the homily.

     Now Luke is telling us, through Godís word, that same truth right now. Jesus is in our midst. Heís alive. Heís among us and he proclaims Godís word, too. 

     In fact, I think itís very important, as we listen to those words of Isaiah from our first lesson today, to remember that those were words that were very special to Jesus. It seems as though they were probably a favorite passage of his. Because, as you remember, when he began his public life, right after he spent those 40 days and 40 nights in deep prayer and communion with God in the desert discovering Godís will for him, he comes back and goes to his hometown, Nazareth, and goes into the synagogue, itís the Sabbath day, and the leader asks him to read.  And so he takes up the scroll (and John tells us that he looks carefully for a special place) and he looks until he finds it and then he proclaims those words that we heard already, ďThe spirit of God is upon me.  God anoints me and God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to give the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim Godís year of favor.Ē  Jesus proclaimed those words with power, Iím sure, and the people were astonished, because Luke says that when he sat down everybody looked upon him in quiet amazement.  And then, Jesus said words that give us hope and also present a challenge.  He said, ďThis day, this scripture passage is fulfilled even as you listen.Ē

     He meant it was being fulfilled right then and you can see it in what he did. He did heal the broken hearted, physical infirmities, but even more he healed people in their spirit. He lifted up the downtrodden, challenged the proud and put them down for their own good.  He said that the rich would no longer be rich, but that the poor would share in the blessings that are given for all, and he began to make that happen.

     If we listen carefully to these passages from Godís word, we can draw hope and joy because we can see how Godís word is always fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled in our world.

     ďThis day, this scripture passage is fulfilled even as you listen.Ē

     I suppose that most of us this past week, when we read about Senator Trent Lott, and thought, ďWhat a terrible thing.Ē  Remember what he said when he was at the 100 birthday for Senator Strom Thurmond. He said, ďIf only this man had been elected in 1948, we wouldnít have the troubles we have.Ē And people were angry. To suggest that that time, when Strom Thurmond was running for president and wanted to make our nation a segregated nation forever, would have prevented the troubles that we are experiencing nowÖ  And everybody was outraged.

     But if you think of it a little bit differently, you can see how Godís word is fulfilled. The spirit of God is a work in our midst. One of the articles that I read showed some pictures of how things were back in 1948.  And Iím sure some of you remember well how terrible how things were back in 1948 when there was segregation, when there was extreme discrimination, when black people were being lynched without anyone being held accountable. But look at how it has changed.  Martin Luther King came proclaiming Godís word, leading a civil rights movement. And weíre most upset now because things havenít come to there fulfillment, but weíve come so far compared to where we were -- because Godís word is a word that has power.  It changes things and will continue to change things. 

     And so that can give us hope and I trust will give us a spirit of joyfulness. 

     And there are many other ways in which we could look at our world to see how Godís word is at work; the spirit of God is among us. Jesus lives and he is proclaiming that good news even at this moment.

     But then there is also the challenge because Jesus lives within us. See, we are the community of disciples of Jesus.  And when Jesus says, ďThe spirit of God is upon me,Ē he is saying that the spirit of God is upon all of us and that itís our task then, isnít it, to go out and say good news to the poor.  ďYouíll be poor no longer because weíre going to make things happen in such a way that the goods of the world are shared, not held be a few.  Weíre going to set the downtrodden free. Weíre going to work to make change happen.Ē 

     And sometimes that change will mean a change in my own life, because maybe I have too much. Maybe Iím too often on the side of the oppressors and those who hold other people down. Maybe I donít reach enough to heal the broken hearted.

     And so weíre being challenged by this word of God to really know that the spirit of God lives in us. And thatís what Jesus says, ďThe word of God is being fulfilled even now as you listen.Ē That becomes true as each one of us says these words that Jesus proclaims and changes our lives to make these words come true.

     In a few moments, weíll celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.  This will be a time for each of us to look deeply in our heart, to try to listen to Godís word, to hear it as a word of hope and a word of joy for all the beautiful things that God has done in our midst; and also to hear it as a challenge.  How must I change my life in order be one who proclaims this good news, to be one who helps to change this world and transform it into as close an image of the reign of God as possible?

     Godís word will challenge us.  But if we pray for healing and forgiveness, we can be reconciled and God will continue to make the spirit of Jesus break forth in our midst in the light of each one of us.  And through that power of Godís spirit, Godís word will be fulfilled and our world will be transformed. And each of us will know ever more deeply the joy and the hope that the spirit of God brings.

     In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

© Copyrighted 2001 by The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company
115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111, Telephone: 1-816-531-0538
Comments and questions may be sent to