Third Sunday of Advent, year B, December 13, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
If one needs a justification for posting this interesting image, it's Isaiah's mission "to proclaim liberty to the captives" announced in today's first reading. The picture is Prisoners Exercising, (after Gustave Dore's "Prisoners' Round."), by Vincent van Gogh, 1890.
This page updated November 11, 2020