advent The Sánchez Archives

Year B

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Joy to the World!

ISAIAH 61:1-2, 10-11
JOHN 1:6-8, 19-28

An ambiance of joy welcomes and surrounds the gathered community on this, Advent’s third Sunday. Traditionally named Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday because of Paul’s imperative in the second reading, this Sunday serves to underscore Advent as a celebration of the already-experienced and yet-to-be experienced reality of God’s coming among humankind. The only adequate response to this profound reality is a joy that springs from a well deep within and never runs dry, regardless of what happens.

Too often, joy is equated with being happy, but as the word indicates, happiness comes from positive happenstances or happenings which excite, delight, please and amuse. When negative or unpleasant happenings occur, happiness evaporates. Joy, however, penetrates, permeates and persists despite the circumstances.

In the Hebrew scriptures, joy is featured as a gift, awakened in the human heart by God. Joy erupts when the believer considers: the course of salvation history (Psalms 74:13-21; 91:5-12); God’s faithfulness to the covenant (Psalms 31:8f; 145:7f); the call of Israel (Ps 149:2-4); God’s wisdom (Wisdom 8:16; Sirach 4:12); the will of God as expressed in the law (Psalms 1:2, 19:9, 119:162); God’s living word as it speaks to every moment of human existence (Jeremiah 15:16); and the gift of divine forgiveness (Psalm 51:10, 14, 16). Even when the believer finds himself/herself in want, as regards material goods, a deep joy abides (Habakkuk 3:16-19).

As Wolfgang Beilner (“Joy”, Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology, Johannes Bauer, ed., Sheed and Ward, London: 1976) has explained, “The decisive transformation in the content of this concept of joy in the New Testament consists in the proclamation of the eschatological -- messianic joy (sic).” The prophetic utterances of Hebrew tradition are celebrated as fulfilled in Jesus. God has come to comfort the people (Isaiah 49:13) and all will be joined to God in a new and unbreakable bond (Jeremiah 31:31). God will do wonders (Isaiah 35:1-10) and all who believe will be decked out in the garments of salvation (Isaiah 6:1-10) because of the love of God incarnate in the words and works of Jesus.

In the Christian scriptures, joy as a spiritual gift is uniquely bound up with the person of Jesus. Zechariah rejoiced at the birth of his son, Jesus’ precursor (Luke 1:14); John himself leaps from within as his mother and Mary meet (Luke 1:44). Mary is portrayed in exultant joy because the age of salvation has come to pass within her (Luke 1:47). Jesus’ birth announcement caused shepherd (Luke 2:10), magi (Matthew 2:10) and angels to rejoice.

During his ministry, Jesus assured his contemporaries that repentant sinners, not the righteous, bring joy to heaven (Luke 15:5, 7, 10, 32). He assured those persecuted for the sake of the reign of God that they would one day share in a joy (Matthew 5:12) that could never be taken from them (John 16:20, 22). Joy as a way of life was one of the challenges Jesus demanded of his own (Luke 10:20, John 4:36); joy in knowing that their prayers would be heard was one of his promises (John 16:24).

After Jesus’ death, the risen Christ remains with the church as the source and sustainer of its joy (1 Peter 1:8, 1 John 1:4, Philippians 4:4, John 17:13). This joy is renewed through sacramental encounters (Acts 2:46) and through the Church’s mission, continued in Jesus’ name (Acts 8:8, 39; 13:48; 16:34).

As I write these words for a season of Advent rejoicing still almost four months away, there is a woman, lying near death in a Calcutta hospital. Through her ministry in Jesus’ name, she has brought untold blessings and joy to the poor who lie unattended and forgotten on our streets. When asked the source of her joy, Mother Teresa replied: “Joy is prayer -- joy is strength -- joy is love -- joy is a net of love. . . A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love . . . loving as He loves, helping as He helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, being with Him twenty-four hours, touching Him in His distressing disguise.” (Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, Harper and Row, San Francisco: 1971). Whether she is still among us or not when Advent does arrive, Mother Teresa’s life, will continue to witness the joy which is true hallmark of every Christian and the rightful inheritance of all the poor.

ISAIAH 61:1-2, 10-11

Central to the spirituality of the modern Jewish revivalist movement known as Hasidism (founded in eighteenth century Poland) is an emphasis on joy based on the fact of God’s presence. Founder of the movement, Israel ben Eliezer took as his motto, “serve God with joy.” Since the Hasidim believe that there is no place empty of God, they strive to dispel all sadness and fear within themselves and others. Among the Hasidic sayings concerning the contagious quality of joy and its value for the community is the following: “There are people who suffer terrible distress and are unable to tell what they feel in their hearts, and they go on their way and suffer and suffer. But, if they meet one with a laughing face, he can revive them with his joy. And to revive a person is no slight thing.” (Bernard Mandebaum, Choose Life, Random House, New York: 1968). When the prophet known as Trito-Isaiah perceived the sense of sorrow and loss of his contemporaries, he attempted to revive them with a similar contagion of redemptive joy.

Freed from exile in Babylonia and home once again in Judah, the prophet and his people were involved in the lengthy and often discouraging process of restoration and reconstruction. What had not been destroyed during the Babylonian onslaught had been left unattended. Public buildings, and in particular the temple, had to be rebuilt and refurnished. Roadways were needed. Homes, shops and market places had to be reestablished. Fields and flocks required tending. Most importantly, the relationship of the people with God had to be affirmed. To this end the prophet announced his mission.

Called, anointed, and sent by God on their behalf (v. 1) Trito-Isaiah described himself as a bringer of glad tidings, or as an evangelist to the poor. The prophet’s glad tidings or gospel would spell healing for the brokenhearted, freedom for captives, release for prisoners, a year of favor and a day of vindication.

Each phrase of the prophet’s job description is rich in biblical tradition. As Carroll Stuhlmueller (“Trito Isaiah”, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs: 1990) noted, spirit signaled the special intervention of God. The term anointed is “linked with preaching and hearing; it designates an interior enlightening to know God’s word and a strengthening to follow it.” Glad tidings, release and liberty conveyed the sense of the “total salvation of God’s people -- bodily and spiritually, individually and socially.”

By the phrase, “a year of favor” (v. 2), the prophet assured his contemporaries that they would know the joy of a Jubilee year. Legislated in Leviticus (25:8-17, 22-55; 27:16-25), the celebration of the Jubilee (or fiftieth year occurring at the end of seven Sabbatical cycles of seven years each) required that property once seized, borrowed or rented was to be returned to its rightful owners, slaves were freed, debts were either remitted or suspended and the land was free to lie fallow. Most scholars believe the Jubilee year to be an idyllic vision rather that a practical piece of enforceable legislation. Nevertheless, Trito-Isaiah held out the ideal of the Jubilee to his contemporaries as a signal that God had restored their land, that they were now free of Babylonian tyranny and that Judah’s debt of sin had been suspended and forgiven by God.

In the second half of this excerpted reading, the prophet gave voice to his people’s rejoicing. Their covenant with Yahweh reinstated, they knew a joy similar to that shared by a bride and groom on their wedding day. But for Judah, the marriage garments were comprised of the gifts of the divine bridegroom, viz. a robe of salvation and a mantle of justice (vs. 10). And just as human sin took its toll on the ecological balance of nature, so also would the redemption of humanity be reflected in the cosmos. As the people of God rejoiced in their restoration and rejuvenation, the earth would echo that joy with a renewal of lush growth. Among the nations, the justice of God will be the cause of resounding praise.

Significantly, the early Christians (Luke 4:16-20) drew upon Trito-Isaiah’s vision to describe the ministry of Jesus. But, as Arthur J. Dewey (Proclamation, Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 1996) reminds us, “this utterance is still unfulfilled in the modern world. The question still remains: Do we believe that this is God’s good news for us? Obviously, the work begun by Jesus has not yet been completed and Advent believers are challenged today, to further Jesus’ mission in order that the joy of this season may truly be a universal experience.


At the conclusion of his letters, Paul was accustomed to add a catena of short wishes and recommendations and in his first piece of correspondence for the sake of the gospel, Paul set the pattern he was to follow in most his other letters. C. Roetzel has described Paul’s chain of short, choppy admonitions as “shotgun parenesis”.

Earlier in his letter, Paul had told the Thessalonian Christians that they were his hope, joy, and crown (2:19). Of the two Greek words for crown, diadema which means royal crown and stephanos which referred to a victor’s crown (as in the athletic games), Paul chose to use the latter; the fact of the Thessalonians’ conversion to Christ, the continued integrity of their faith and their zeal in the Spirit were the only crowning achievement he desired. Good pastor that he was, albeit in absentia, Paul was concerned that the people he had brought to Christ would continue making progress.

To that end, he advised them to “rejoice always” (v. 16), despite their worries about delayed eschatology and the continuing threats posed by internal divisiveness, false teachers, etc. He also called for constancy in prayer and an attitude of gratitude for all that God had accomplished for them in Christ Jesus. Recall that in Paul’s Hebrew background, there was no specific term for giving thanks (v. 1) Hodah, which is the term usually translated as thanks, actually means to praise, honor, bless. Therefore Paul was not counseling the early Christians as to their manners, as in “don’t forget to say thank you to God.” Such spoken thanks is, as Claus Westermann has explained, an “externality” (Praise and Lament in the Psalms, John Knox Press, Atlanta: 1981). What Paul asked of his readers was an internalized acknowledgment of, and response to, the gifts of God, particularly the gifts of the Spirit. “The thankful attitude has its origin in a gift or in a helping or saving deed which someone does for me. It can then be expressed in a variety of ways, by a word, or by a deed, but the decisive factor is the permanence of the thankful attitude.” (Claus Westermann, op.cit.) For this reason, Paul exhorted the Thessalonians not to stifle the gifts of the Spirit or its manifestations but to wisely discern and actively cooperate with its movement within the church.

As part of Paul’s closing prayer for the Thessalonian community, verses 23-24 take the form of a homiletic benediction. “Its two parts are characterized by synonymous parallelism, i.e. the basic content is the same in each of the two parts” (Raymond Collins, “Thessalonians”, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs: 1990)

Paul’s words continues to impart a blessing for Advent believers who yet again await the coming of the God of people. His proclamation of the trustworthiness of God reassures the waiting community that the hopes of this season are well founded and reminds the church of its mission to enable others to experience the contagion of its joy.

JOHN 1:6-8, 19-28

Each of the evangelists has included, in the telling of the good news of Jesus, information concerning John the Baptizer, however, none of the gospel writers has been as specific about his role as has John (see Mark 1:2-8, Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-18, John 1:6-8, 19ff). As Helmut Koester (Introduction to the New Testament, Volume two: History and Literature of Early Christianity, Fortress Press, New York: 1995) has observed, the reason so much attention has been given to the Baptizer was not only because of his special role in salvation history but also in an attempt to set that role in proper perspective to Jesus, viz. as the temporary and subordinate precursor of the messiah.

That John inspired a movement that survived beyond his death is evident in Mark 2:18-19 wherein the disciples of the Baptizer and those of the Pharisees are compared with those of Jesus. Obviously, John the Baptizer’s disciples were still a factor to be reckoned with by the time John the evangelist’s gospel appeared near the end of the first century C.E. Moreover, Koester suggests that it is possible that the Mandaeans, a religious group still in existence today in Mesopotamia (Iraq) may have had its origin in the sect founded by the Baptizer, near the Jordan. Since the finding of the Qumran scrolls in 1947 and the discovery that an ascetic Jewish group had lived together and practiced purification rites in the Judaen desert near the southern end of the Jordan, many have speculated that John had, at one time, been a member of the Essene community.

Twentieth century speculation notwithstanding, today’s gospel represents a first century effort to clarify John’s role. Excerpted from the Johannine prologue, this description of the Baptizer has both negative and positive aspects. John was not the long awaited messiah. Nor was he Elijah, whom it was believed would accompany the messiah. John was not the promised prophet (like Moses of Deuteronomy 18:15). Not the light, John was to bear witness to the light so that others may come to believe (v. 8). Stanley B. Marrow (The Gospel of John, Paulist Press, New York: 1995) regards verse 8 as a “salutary reminder that not even the gospel itself is ‘the light’, any more than are ‘the scriptures’ themselves . . . The light is a person, not a book, however sacred; nor a set of propositions, however lofty.”

In the remaining verses of today’s gospel (vv. 19-28), John’s role is delineated in a positive manner. He is a voice crying, he will be a witness; his mission is a preparatory one. John’s baptism also was a preparatory one by which sinners professed a willingness to repent and receive the salvation as God would plan and deliver in their midst.

John’s subordinate role is further confirmed by the image of the sandal strap. Helping others to put on or take off their sandals was menial work relegated to slaves. That John claimed such a position for himself, or more properly, that the early Christian writers cast John and his ministry in this light indicated that his role had meaning only as it related to Jesus.

As our guide through Advent, John underscores the importance of the believer’s ministry of witnessing to Christ. “Even when the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us (1:14), he still needs to be pointed out, to have witness borne to him. There is simply no getting around the human mediation in divine revelation, whether in Jesus’ own lifetime or thereafter” (Stanley B. Marrow, op.cit). With so much to distract attention from this season’s central focus, John’s ministry must be continued by every Juan, Jon, Johan, Ivan, Sean, Jean, Juanita and Joanna who believe. Jesus must be discovered, pointed out and reverenced in his every venue, even in what Mother Teresa called, his most distressing disguises.

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