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Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Advent 3
General Reflection on the Readings
Revised Common Lectionary


Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture):
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9
New Testament:
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18


Reflection on Third Sunday of Advent
by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Philippians 4:4-7. We are all living after 9/11 in a world of fear, marinating in ever-present if often unconscious anxiety. Where to from here? What comes next? We hardly know. Reaction, retribution, revenge ironically imprison the one remaining Superpower within acids of self-destruction. Anxiety envelops us all, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or not "religious" at all.

From within an imperial prison centuries older than ours a paradoxically free spirit writes a letter. Facing death, he looks instead and intently, as he writes, at a new community who shares with him across hundred of miles a common vision and outlook on life—and death. He and they are free, he writes, even though we can neither forecast nor control what comes next.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near." The first "Advent" has told us what and Who comes next: The Lord is near. No matter what self-appointed "realists" say, the Lord is near. No matter what the horizon has sewed up for 360 degrees around us, beyond present appearances the Lord is near. "Rejoice," therefore, and "let your gentleness be known to everyone." No Abu Ghraib here. No Guantanamo Gulag. No full spectrum dominance. Only this: "Rejoice in the Lord always…"

You want homeland security, a secure fortress against catastrophe, and peace within? "Rejoice in the Lord", "do not worry about anything," "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus" (2:5), and then what? "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." "Guard," a military action! But here with a difference, for the Subject of that action is a Shalom (a peace, wholeness, health) that God only knows, and for that reason gives. The peace of God, and that alone, will stand guard over you. "The Lord is near."

Zephaniah 3:14-20. It would be a huge mistake for us Americans to take Zephaniah's poetic joy in the expected restoration of his capital city, and transplant it into super-patriotic claims of American exceptionalism—as if this nation had a "manifest destiny" to rule the world, as if we were different from other nations in purity of motive and wisdom of geopolitics.

In fact, not even ancient Israel received Zephaniah's joyful prophecy without having first undergone refining judgment in "the Day of the Lord" for having "listened to no voice" and "accepted no correction" (3:2). If the People of God were not, in prophetic understanding, "exceptional," how could the USA be "exceptional," above international law (as in Geneva Conventions), and entitled to special treatment (as in having her officials exempt from judgment by other countries for their crimes in those countries)?

Luke 3:7-18. What God wills to "come next" was made plain in the Advent of Jesus. About that event John the Baptizer's colloquies with crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers made commentary. Quite rightly John presses home the point that the first Advent is useless unless we allow Jesus' coming then to continue now as we "bear fruits worthy of repentance."

It is useless to speculate about coming events over which we have no control. What matters is this: "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." And this: "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." And this: "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation…"

These are specific, exact, unmistakable portraits of Advent living. They are full of political import, economic consequence, social reconstruction, and psychological innovation—all evidences that "the Holy Spirit and fire" have come among us, extending Jesus' advent into the 21st century.

Not only in these texts, but throughout the history of God's dealings with God's People it is clear that, as Catherine Keller claims: "Theology always means---whatever else it means---theopolitics. However deeply faith may retreat into privacy, God-talk begins and ends among the res publica, the ‘public things.'" [God and Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys (Fortress, 2005), p. 135] According to Luke, to see the meaning of Advent is to see Jesus within the public square among crowds, tax collectors, soldiers. This Advent is known in every valley, every mountain and hill, among crooked ways and straight ones, along rough ways made smooth until "all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Lk. 3:5-6; cf. Is. 40:3-5).

Canticle 9, "Ecce, Deus" (Is. 12:2-6). The point of Advent is that we might behold God in Jesus the Christ, and live in that light. Here again as in Phil. 4 "the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense." That is the source of both inner and outer life: "draw[ing] water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation" and living in such a way as to "Make his deeds known among the peoples…"

We are all living after 9/11 with the same mission we ever had: "Rejoice in the Lord always. …Let your gentleness be known to everyone. …Do not worry about anything. …with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. …Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you."


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John G. Gibbs a retired theologian attended Trinity Episcopal Church in Park Rapids, MN, when he wrote this reflection in 2006. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John G. Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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