First Reading Commentary
The prophet Zephaniah whose name means "the watchman of the Lord" or "the hidden of the Lord" is offering something a little different from what most of his prophecies contain. Much of what is written from Zephaniah deals with punishments for idolatry and the destruction of nations. This Reading turns away from an atmosphere of condemnation and invites us to shout for joy, sing joyfully, be glad and exult and not be discouraged. Today, much like the time this Reading was written, there are many things that could tempt us to be just the opposite.
Zephaniah proclaims: "The Lord has removed the judgment against you." In the Septuagint the word "judgment" is translated to mean "iniquities." This prophecy also tells us that the Lord will renew us in His love. The Latin translates to mean "the Lord will be silent in His love." This is an interesting translation because the silence means that the Lord will no longer accuse us.
As we journey towards Christmas this Reading tells us that the King of Israel, the Lord, will be in our midst. Christmas is coming of which we celebrate God clothing Himself in Flesh. Shout for joy, sing joyfully indeed! Jesus has washed away our iniquities and turned away our enemies which are sin and death. Trust is so important in our spiritual life. As we continue to live in this valley of tears, if we trust in the Lord, our joy can never be taken away.
From the perspective of prayer, our Lord sings joyfully as one sings at festivals. This brings great joy to the Church in her daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours. Jesus prays for us and with us in the Divine Office. Hear His Voice in those Psalms. Let your heart sing with His Voice in choral celebrations or Gregorian chant.
Second Reading Commentary
The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as "Gaudete" Sunday, a Latin word meaning "Rejoice." Before the revision of the Mass the Introit was always "Gaudete in Domino semper" (Rejoice in the Lord always). This Reading from Saint Paul was always proclaimed at the liturgy on Gaudete Sunday.
The final verse is a most comforting way to close by assuring us that God's peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. These last two verses really make a case for the harmonious relationship between prayer and peace. Through constant prayer we remain close to our Lord Who is our eternal Peace. And when embraced in His Peace there is no anxiety. Instead, rejoicing becomes a way of life. This was the secret to Saint Paul's endurance; this was the secret known by so many of the great saints.
In relationship with the season of Advent, there is cause for rejoicing. Quickly approaching is the celebration of the day that eternal Joy and Peace was born of the Virgin Mary. Also approaching on the day we know not is His Second Coming in which His disciples will rejoice and His enemies out of fear will prostrate at His Feet.
In this Gospel you could almost say that John the Baptist is a figure of the Church; or at least he is doing what the Church is charged with: Preaching, evangelizing and doing the Lord's work. He begins by saying: "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Charity is at the heart of all evangelization and more specifically this verse is directed at charitable works towards the poor. The Church today is deeply involved with this mission with projects like food and clothing drives at local parishes, feeding the poor at soup kitchens as well as Religious Orders that are called to be on the front lines like Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.
Saint Basil points out that charity to the poor is frequently recommended in Scripture as a powerful method of redeeming sin and reconciling us to Divine Mercy. Along those same lines Saint John Chrysostom refers to the poor as physicians, and their hands are an ointment for our wounds.
John the Baptist next aims his preaching at tax collectors and soldiers who had reputations of conducting themselves in ways that were less than ethical. Evangelization and proclaiming the way of the Lord sometimes, unfortunately, means pointing out what is not proper. Today, our culture has its own laundry list of things that are not in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ. But even this uncomfortable duty of pointing these things out is done with charity. It is not done in a way of judgment, but instead it is done out of Christ-like love and concern for those who are heading down an ill-advised path.
All were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. Wouldn't it be wonderful if others thought the same about us? John is not the Christ and neither are we but we have a similar role. We are voices. Saint Augustine says: "John was a voice, but in the beginning was the Word. Take away the Word and what is a voice? When it conveys no meaning, it is just an empty sound." John, in humility, was quick to point out that he is not the Christ but a voice in the wilderness crying out: "Prepare the way of the Lord." And preparing the way means to make zealous and humble efforts to proclaim Jesus Christ as the conqueror of the world and the joy of our hearts and souls with the hope that others will also accept Him and invite Him to possess their hearts and souls. And a humble effort means first to acknowledge our own failings.
Saint Bernard actually spoke of not two, but a three-fold coming of Christ. The first is His birth; another is the final coming at the end of time; and the remaining one is hidden. The hidden coming is Christ dwelling within us. It is this indwelling that we are deputed to exhibit to a world that desperately needs Him.