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Third Sunday of Advent, Year B, December 14, 2014
Lectionary index # 8

Twenty-second digests for the congregation: Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.

Third Sunday of Advent, Year B, December 14, 2014
Before the first reading:

As the Judeans were returning home from an exile of about sixty years, the third prophet known as Isaiah interpreted the events. A year of favor is another name for a jubilee, when the custom was to free slaves, forgive debts and let families have back ancestral lost land.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

This is the concluding summary of a letter from Paul to an early community that he loved well. He writes in a hasty way, packing only the most important closing thoughts into these last paragraphs.
Before the gospel acclamation:

The followers of John the Baptist continued to promote his cause for a long time. He was important enough to be compared to Ezekiel and even Moses. The evangelists, including John today, make clear that, while he was important, John was subordinate to Jesus.

First reading, Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

Our Liturgical Setting: Earlier Christians felt the need to lighten up in the middle of penitential Lent. Advent was later made to imitate that feature of Lent. So we have a Sunday when we hear from an Old Testament prophet rejoicing at what God is doing, a New Testament apostle instructing a congregation to rejoice and give thanks, and John the Baptist speaking tantalizingly about making straight the pathway for the Lord, "one among you whom you do not recognize." So it's a happy day, but not a frivolous one.

The Historical Situation: This section of Isaiah comes from the turbulent period when the Jews were trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland after a few generations as slaves exiled in Babylon. The prophet sees himself as appointed to declare how good things are about to become (the brokenhearted healed, captives liberated, etc.). A "year of favor" was what we've come to call a jubilee, a period for the remission of debts, freeing of slaves, and "starting over" with a clean slate in all social relations.

Proclaiming It: Because that year of favor was such a big deal, you should try to announce it with the same powerful voice the prophet would have used. A - YEAR - OF - FAVOR - FROM - THE - LORD!!! Isaiah is joyful, to be sure, but he's not giddy. He's triumphal and authoritative.

At the end of the second paragraph, too, the lector should slow down and declare solemnly what is God's bottom line here: So will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up.

Second Reading, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Historical Situation: Paul was fond of the Thessalonians, who had received his gospel enthusiastically. Their example had helped others embrace the faith, too. But they were not above the need for moral instruction. This Paul gives them in the latter half of the letter (a literary pattern Paul would use in later letters, too). That instruction is what Paul is wrapping up here, then he slides into affectionate farewell verses. The writer and the readers knew that God had done great things among them, and they expected more, even expecting the imminent return of Jesus in glory. So the level of excitement was high.

Proclaiming It: Paul writes choppy short sentences, as if he knows he's almost out of ink, or as if the courier is going to leave momentarily, whether or not the letter is finished. To avoid making the first short sentences sound monotonous, vary your pitch with each verse, pausing slightly between them.

Pause before verse 23, "May the God of peace make you perfect ...," and take a breath. This is the conclusion of the letter. Speak as the Apostle would: You love these people and you want for them the best that your generous God can offer. (That would be a good way to pray privately for your listeners before you even begin the proclamation.)

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Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group. Dan explains the texts verse-by-verse, and sometimes word-by-word, with cross-references to other Bible passages. Especially useful if you're puzzled about the meaning of a word or phrase in the readings.
This week Dan treats the same first and second readings that Catholics proclaim, and gospel passage John 1:6-8, 19-28, which Catholics use on Christmas at the "Mass during the day." He gives more background on the first reading, and a short very seasonal excerpt from a 1998 book about 1 and 2 Thessalonians, by Beverly Roberts Gaventa. It's worth your reading.
Father Roger Karban of Belleville, Illinois, USA, writes a newspaper column about every Sunday's readings. Here are his essays for today's passages, from: courtesy of The Evangelist, official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, or of The Belleville Messenger, of the Diocese of Belleville.

Read all of Father Karban's recent columns here, at the site of FOSIL, the Faithful of Southern Illinois.

The Text This Week; links to Lectionaries of many churches, homilies, art works, movies touching scriptural themes, and other resources on the week's scripture Saint Louis University's excellent Sunday liturgy site

Most welcome here are Reginald Fuller's commentaries.

I found John Pilch's background on today's gospel, most thought-provoking.

(Caveat lector. As of October 31, 2014, Lector's Notes' author is speculating about the exact URL of SLU's offering, since it's not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).

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Last modified: October 31, 2014