1st Reading – Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11
Some scholars suggest that this prophet may have delivered this uplifting message to his people while standing among the ruins that had once been Jerusalem. With these words of hope, they could begin to rebuild their city – and their lives. It was the ‘year of favor’ from the Lord. A ‘Year of Favor’, or a Jubilee Year, was a time of social reconciliation and economic restitution according to Leviticus 25: 9-19, 23-55. The land was to rest without planted crops. The poor could eat freely of whatever ‘wild crops’ grew. Property that had been once seized, borrowed, or rented was to be returned to its rightful owner. Slaves were to be set free. All debts were to either be remitted or forgiven. For such was the favor and forgiveness that Israel had experienced at God’s hand. (Celebration, December 15, 2002) When you experience and know this kind of joy, you want to DO something about it.
Henri Nouwen reflecting on joy in Here and Now:
Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety…Joy does not depend on the ups and downs of the circumstances of our lives. Joy is based on the spiritual knowledge that, while the world in which we live is shrouded in darkness, God has overcome the world…God’s light is more real than all the darkness.
2nd Reading – 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
Verses 16-18 give us 3 marks of a genuine Church: happy, prayerful and thankful. When a Church lives up to Paul’s advice, it will indeed shine like a light in a dark place; it will have joy within itself and power to win others (Barclay’s Daily Study Series, p. 207-208). How are we as Church doing this now? Where can we grow?
In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy…Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise-then you will discover the fullness of your life. ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast
Verse 23: “make you perfectly holy” is also translated (www.biblehub.com):
NIV-sanctify you through and through
NLT-make you holy in every way
KJV-sanctify you wholly
MGE-make you holy and whole
The Gospel – John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in. ~Leonard Cohen
Maybe John the Baptist is the crack, and helps us see the light coming through it.
This gospel may seem out of place with the other two readings. We have been prepared with joy and hope; we have been encouraged with positive words and messages. But John’s message in this gospel is filled with negations: “I am not the Messiah, not Elijah, nor the Prophet . . .” He knew himself to be the “voice of one crying in the desert.” Yet, in that solitary truth and task he found joy. There is comfort and assurance in knowing who we are and what our calling is. There is joy in knowing how to look for the “one who is to come.” John is incomplete by himself: so are we! Let us with John be expectant in the midst of a desert – looking for light in the midst of darkness. Even a tiny flicker of light can dispel the darkest gloom. Maybe then we will be free to discover the many and various ways the Lord Jesus Christ comes into our lives. (Living with Christ, December, 2011, p. 123)
As the questioning continues in today’s passage, and John the Baptist increasingly illustrates no eschatological role, why does he baptize? He replies that his is a water baptism, a Jewish rite of purification, implying a change of heart. There is no immediate or direct comparison with Jesus’ baptism; rather, the emphasis is on the witness to Jesus as one superior to John. Whom do you not recognize (or know) (v26): this is one of John’s key words. The believer is the one who “knows” Jesus in faith; the non-believer remains unknowing. The Johannine narrative centers wholly on the person of Jesus, God’s Son, the Word incarnate, light and life (R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 38).