Reading 1: 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.
Responsorial Psalm LK 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
Reading 2: 1 Thessalonians 5:15-24
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.
Gospel 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?”
“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.
Welcome to Laetare Sunday. The messages of today's Liturgy certainly continue the theme of reverent preparation, but there sounds also a strong hope that the new age is dawning.
We are greeted by Isaiah's insight into the mission of the Anointed One--that this Savior will be fully prepared to complete the history of his God's people, even that all Creation awaits a transformation: 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. The Theology of this day is a call to repentance, not in the darkness of the season, but in the light of a new springtime for the earth. Every thing will change.
Theology is complex, but, as the scholarly Medievals often demonstrate, the process of classical theology is often rather linear and straightforward. Moral principle, on the other hand, has every appearance of simplicity, but is often agonizingly hard-earned. So we are tempted to consider the Gospel for today as the theological entree for this pre-Christmas repast, and the earlier readings as appetizers. They are, in fact, strongly interdependent.
And indeed, the Gospel’s lesson is an important one. John the Baptizer is challenged to clarify his sense of his mission against the insinuating, sneering suspicions of the “hired” interlocutors. As these actors will do later when they are sent to hector Jesus as he teaches, they are trying to make him appear a pretentious fool and impersonator. Of course the remedy against their behavior is to tell the truth simply and clearly. John told what he knew and what he did not know.
In many ways John the Baptizer remains a mysterious character. The truth about John resides not simply in himself, but in the whole of the Covenant history. So does the truth about Jesus--as Father Barron wrote this week, "...when you see Jesus against the backdrop of the great story of Israel, now you see that he's the savior." The same is true of John. John is seen as the last of the prophets. The Gospel, and even his enemies, place him in their line--Isaiah, Elijah and their great company, who by Jesus' day were figures of the past and of the future, interpreting history and preaching the coming of the Day of Yahweh.
By the plan of Salvation and the recognition that sparked between John and Jesus, John becomes a hinge-pin upon which turns the eternal Present of the Messianic age, the age of the Church. It is a tiny community of recognition who share this favor of infinite grace: Mary's cousin Elizabeth and her husband, the aged Simeon and Hannah at the Temple daily, Mary and Joseph, and John. This tiny fellowship begins God's sculpting of the community of the Church, which will not be ready to begin its work until the day of Pentecost. But make no mistake, this is the Church in its prototypical pattern of brooding upon its transforming intimacy with the Son of God on earth. They utter words of recognition--that times have changed and all earthly authority is overthrown. Their greatest manifesto is Mary's prayer--the passage, called "Magnificat" from the Gospel of Luke proposed as today's Responsorial Psalm.
So, what? Well, we are in "this Present Age." We show up at Church because we recognize the now-Risen Christ present in the world through the outpouring of signs (if we will see them) of God's Spirit, through the Scriptures, through the communities that compose the Church and value its signs and traditions, through the Eucharist. We are then called to do the work of disciples--part prophetic, as in Isaiah's enumeration of prophetic jobs, and part citizens of a Kingdom already established, as Paul's exhortation proclaims.
Here is Isaiah, urging the successors of the prophets 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.
Here is St. Paul, reminding the Thessalonians to BE the Church: 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.
Our job, like that of the earliest fellowship, is tho share in the mission of the prophets and to live fully in the assembly of disciples. Does that sound like a job description? It's ours--
Rejoice always; the Lord's approach is near!