3rd Sunday of Advent - Sunday, December 17, 2017

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Father Jim Donohue

December 13, 2017

The preparation for the advent or the coming of Christ is highlighted by his herald, John the Baptist. All the gospels position John the Baptist as the one who announces Jesus as “the one who is greater.” If we look more closely at the gospels, we see that the gospel writers make a connection between John the Baptist and the prophet Elijah. It is interesting that Elijah is one of the biblical persons who does not die, but is taken up into heaven on a fiery chariot (2 Kgs 2:11). He is described as “wearing a hairy garment with a leather girdle about his loins” (2 Kgs 1:7). The last book in the Bible that Christians use is the Book of the Prophet Malachi. This book ends looking forward to the coming of the Day of the Lord. This moment in time is described as that “great and terrible day” and it looks forward to when Elijah the prophet would be sent before this “great and terrible day” comes (Mal 3:23-24). We see many similarities with John the Baptist, who is dressed similarly to Elijah. Mark’s gospel describes him “clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist” (Mk 1:6; Mt 3:4). By alluding to Elijah in this way, the gospel writers are trying to help their hearers to realize that the Day of the Lord has come, with John the Baptist as its herald. 

There is something very interesting, however, about the Day of the Lord that John proclaims. His message seems much in tune with preparation for the “great and terrible day” that the prophet Malachi anticipates. Instead, as our first reading relates, the one who is to come, is sent to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

In the midst of preparations that can distract and misdirect us, this Sunday offers us an opportunity to reflect upon who Jesus is and what it is that His birth means for us and for the world. Who is it that John announces to us? And what does it mean to call Jesus the Messiah? The readings today will provide a challenging perspective to help us to answer these questions.