Advent 3: Joy and Justice

Reading the Bible as an Activist

Laura Gottwald
Published 12 December 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20 Philippians 4:4-7 Isaiah 12:2-6 Luke 3:7-18

What does severe criticism in a lecture on social responsibility have to do with the third Sunday in Advent? It may seem a bit oblique but its inclusion in our readings for this Sunday is pivotal.

The third Sunday is known as Gaudete or Joy or Rose Sunday (the color of the third Advent candle). The name was derived from the Catholic mass’s introit which includes Philippians 4:3-4 “Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.” This Sunday’s worship service is one of anticipatory celebration and joy for the nearness of Jesus’s coming as the infant Christ. It is a day that stands apart from the penitential Sundays prior to and following; a day of light glowing in the midst of weeks of darkness as we anticipate the coming of the light of the world. Three of our lectionary offerings are obviously in keeping with the theme of Joy Sunday, but the Lukan passage seems at odds with the theme and the other three selections but it is indeed central to the day’s theme as well.

Zephaniah, one of the Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, proclaims the coming of the Lord and condemnation of the unrighteous way of life exhibited by the Jewish people (especially their leaders). Only those lowly of heart and humble who listen to and follow God’s ways have reason to rejoice (3:12). “He will renew you in his love” (4:17).

In the opening chapter of the book of Isaiah we encounter the prophetic condemnation of the people’s false dependence on sacrifice in place of God’s call to do justice (1:17). Once again God is offering a way to elude the coming devastation. Once again the people are called to chose repentance and rejoice over God’s deliverance and salvation.

The connection between doing justice and the cause for rejoicing is inseparable. John the Baptist in the tradition of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible such as Zephaniah and Isaiah, preaches about the “the wrath to come”. The people ask “what should we do?” to be saved. Foreshadowing Luke 4:18-19, John says clothe those who have no coat, share your food with those who have none, treat others justly. He is preaching the good news of redemption – a message of joy. Do these things and you will be saved. John is preaching of a one who will deliver them from destruction. You have a reason to rejoice. You are loved by God, who is sending a savior, (implying God’s love). Joy is found in the relationship with God and in caring for the children of God.

Paul gives us further clues in finding a reason to rejoice. Be glad, be gentle, don’t worry, pray and practice thankfulness in these one finds the peace that passes all understanding and lasting joy in the love God has for us - manifested by God’s repeated attempts throughout the Bible to save God’s wayward people. Joy is found in one’s relationship with God. Paul tells us joy is found in communion with God through prayer, supplication and thanksgiving. Living a life of thankfulness is a powerful means of living a joyful life in all situations. Paul tells us the Lord is at hand. Our deliverance is nigh. Rejoice in the anticipation of Christ’s second coming.

During the other Advent Sundays we focus on our need for self-reflection and repentance as preparation for the coming of Jesus. We recall the messages of the prophets, of John the Baptist and Jesus to “get right with God”, to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Joy and rejoicing, justice and thanksgiving, prayer and service form the matrix of a life lived as modeled by Jesus. On this third Sunday in Advent, we are called to rejoice in expectation, to experience the joy of God’s gift to us, the infant Christ.

The Lukan passage in the words of John the Baptist and in Luke 4:18-19 the words of Jesus we find the means to rejoicing. Without justice- making there is no peace. This is what both John and Jesus are calling us to do as we model Christ’s life in our own. Rejoicing comes from doing justice. Our other readings call us to rejoice. Luke gives us the way to rejoicing.

There is a slogan going around now that states: “No justice. No peace.” Our readings tell us “No justice. No peace. No Joy.”

Laura Lagerquist-Gottwald, a minister of First Baptist church of Berkeley, M.Div., M.A., is a seasoned, counselor, preacher and writer. She co-authored a volume of Proclamation: Pentecost v. 3,  Aids for Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996).