Reflection on the Gospel-3rd Sunday of Advent Year C
Veronica M. Lawson RSM

(Luke 3:10-18)

The third Sunday of Advent used to be called Gaudete (be joyful) Sunday. It provided a mid-term break within a period of austerity or penance in preparation for Christmas. Advent is no longer celebrated as a penitential period, but rather as a reflective time of expectation and hope. The invitation to rejoice nonetheless remains part of the Advent liturgy. It is certainly present in the first two readings: God is in our midst, renewing us in love (Zephaniah) and there is no need for worry (Philippians). It is also implicit in the gospel reading from Luke with its sense of expectancy and John the Baptist's announcement of the 'Good News' of the one who is to come.

There are ethical demands in the time of waiting. Three times John is asked, 'What must we do?' In line with Luke's emphasis on the universality of God's saving power, the responses are directed to 'all the people'. Those with even minimal food (something to eat) and clothing (two tunics) are told to share. Tax agents, caught up in a system notoriously open to abuse, are to be honest. Soldiers are given three directives that provide some insight into the way the military was perceived: no extortion, no blackmail, and no complaints about wages. The third directive probably derives from the fact that soldiers were better off financially than most others. It is in no sense a prohibition on demands for just wages.

John situates himself in relation to Jesus, the anointed agent of God's liberation. John's portrait presents someone more fiery than the Lukan Jesus turns out to be. It is more like a self-portrait, especially in light of the context which has John addressing the crowds that flock to him as a 'brood of vipers', literally 'children of snakes' (Luke 3:7). In contrast with John's water-baptism 'for the forgiveness of sins', Jesus will 'baptise' with the Holy Spirit and fire. Fire, as we well know in this dry land of ours, is a challenging symbol, both friend and foe. In the first-century Manual of Discipline from the Qumran community by the Dead Sea, water, refining by fire, and 'a holy Spirit' are listed together as the instruments of God's saving and purifying action. John, who may have been a member of the Qumran community, presents his own role as preparatory to that of Jesus, the Spirit-filled, powerful and enduring agent of God's refining and purifying work in the world. We know our own ongoing need for a 'baptism' with the Holy Spirit and fire. We prepare the way by doing what we must: sharing our goods and treating others with dignity and justice.