More than the other liturgical seasons of the year, Advent focuses on the future, when God’s vindication of God’s people will come to fruition. This theme, emerging from Israelite expectations of divine restoration, animates today’s first reading from the book of Zephaniah. That passage looks forward to a divine rescue of the people of Israel, one in which those unjustly humiliated are restored and those driven away are gathered together again. Although God’s gracious action is to culminate in the future, divine mercy is already evident in God’s provision in the present (Isaiah 12:2-6). Paul expresses confidence in that provision particularly in his letter to the Philippians, despite his writing it when he was awaiting Roman trial (Philippians 4:4-7). The Gospel reading for today sets out the ethical imperatives that go along with placing trust in God’s judgment.
The First Reading
The Joy of Israel’s Restoration
This reading from the book of Zephaniah directs to the people of Israel at the beginning of the seventh century BCE an oracle of restoration and return to their homes and homeland. In the context of Advent, the excerpt underscores the continuity of God’s redemptive purpose.
- Sing out, daughter of Zion;
raise a cry, Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!
- The Lord has overturned your judgment;
God has turned aside your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you need not fear evil any longer.
- On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, Zion!
Let your hands not sink in despair!
- The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a saving warrior.
God will rejoice over you in happiness;
God will renew you in God’s love.
God will rejoice over you with a ringing cry.
- Those who suffered from the appointed time—[when] I punished you—
were an expiation tax on Jerusalem, a reproach.
- At that time, I will act against all who humble you,
and I will rescue any who stumbles,
and any who was driven away I will gather up.
And I will make them an object of praise and a name in all the land in which they were shamed.
- At that time, I will bring you,
and at the time I will gather you:
then I will make you a name and an object of praise among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
Joyfully Make Known God’s Works
Writing in reference to the Assyrian invasions of Israel and Judah (eighth century BCE), the prophet Isaiah offers a hymn to God as the one who rescues from trouble. The prophet exhorts the people of God to follow him in trusting God’s deliverance and declaring through song the joy and confidence God’s deliverance brings.
- Behold, God is my rescue!
I will trust and not fear.
For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my song and has been my rescue.
- In joy you will draw water from the wells of deliverance.
- And you will say on that day,
give thanks to the Lord;
call upon God’s name;
announce among the peoples God’s actions;
make known that God’s name is exalted!
- Praise the Lord with music, for God has acted majestically;
this is known in all the land.
- Shout and sing out in joy, inhabitant of Zion!—
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
The Second Reading
Exhortation to Joy and Peace
The Apostle Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi to rejoice and to pray with thankfulness, despite any difficulty or opposition, because the Lord is near. Paul assures them that through prayer they can experience God’s peace as they stand united in the Anointed Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your considerateness be known by everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything—by prayer and petition with thankfulness—let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which exceeds all human reasoning, will guard your hearts and your minds in the Anointed Jesus.
John the Baptist’s Proclamation
Alongside anticipating God’s future acts, John the Baptist set out ethical demands for how people should conduct themselves in the present as they prepare for divine judgment. As presented in Luke’s Gospel in particular, John included even soldiers in his announcement, although they were far from the traditional definition of the people of God.
Then he was saying to the crowds traveling out to be immersed by him: “Offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? So: make fruit worthy of repentance! Do not even begin to say among yourselves, ‘We have a father—Abraham,’ because I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham! The axe is already laid into the root of the trees: so every tree not making good fruit is cut out and thrown into fire.”
The crowds questioned him and said, “So what shall we do?” He answered and said to them, “One who has two tunics should give to the one who has none! And one who has food should do likewise!” Tax-agents also came to be immersed and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” To them he said, “No transactions beyond what is authorized for you!” And even soldiers questioned him, saying, “And what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Extort from no one, and do not gouge! And make do with your wages.” In the people’s anticipation, everyone debated in their hearts concerning John, if perhaps he were the Anointed. John answered them all, saying, “I indeed immerse you in water, but the one stronger than I am comes, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loosen. He himself will immerse you in holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in hand to clear out the threshing floor and to gather the grain into the storehouse, but the refuse he will incinerate with unquenchable fire.” So John exhorted in many other ways and announced to the people.
1. So the Septuagint and others. Hebrew: “will be silent.”
2. Hebrew text is difficult and perhaps corrupt. This translation follows Marvin Sweeney (Hermeneia Bible Commentary series), based in part on the ancient translations found in the Septuagint (in Greek) and the Peshitta (in Syriac).
3. So Sweeney.