Although not overtly obvious, the readings have a Marian character. This is especially true of the first reading. Writing during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.), Zephaniah made an urgent call for reform and spiritual renewal, anticipating the more extended mission of Jeremiah. After warning of judgment and the impending Day of the Lord (chapter 1-2), the prophet ended his short book with a hymn of joy to be sung by the faithful remnant when restored to Zion.
Understood in the light of the New Covenant, this faithful remnant is both a people, the Church, and a specific person, the faithful Daughter of Zion. As the Catechism explains in remarking on this verse, “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells” (CCC 2676; cf CCC 722). Zephaniah proclaimed that the King of Israel was in the midst of Zion, the people of God; He is also, of course, with Mary in a most unique way: “The Lord is with Thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
Two implicit questions are suggested by the readings: “Are we ready to meet our Savior?” and “Do we recognize Him among us?” Today’s responsorial, the twelfth chapter of Isaiah, declares that the great and Holy One of Israel is “among you.” The great prophet, who had seen a glorious vision of the throne of God (Isa 6), stated that he is “confident and unafraid.” His words were taken up centuries later by Mary, the Mother of the Holy One of Israel, in her Canticle: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-47). Both gave the same reasons for their confidence and joy: it is God, holy and loving, who saves His people. Fittingly, Isaiah’s prophetic book emphasizes that the time of salvation is at hand, that God is revealing Himself to those who are waiting for Him.
Likewise, today’s Epistle reading, from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, states, “The Lord is near.” For those who face judgment and refuse to acknowledge their sinful state, the nearness of God is cause for fear and dread. But for those in Christ, the nearness of God brings a supernatural peace that “surpasses all understanding.” This is cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving; it is the basis for the Christian’s daily prayer: “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18).
The Gospel reading is again from the third chapter of Luke, and it further describes the work of John the Baptist as he baptized and taught the people, proclaiming the coming Messiah. The prophetic message of Jesus’ cousin had affected powerfully those who were generally considered by the religious authorities to be on the edges of society: the poor, tax collectors, and Roman soldiers. Three times John is asked: “What should we do?” It is a question repeated elsewhere in Luke’s writings in situations dealing with conversion (Lk 10:25; 18:18; Acts 2:37; 16:30; 22:10). Like his prophetic predecessors, John is a teacher of morals who urges his listeners to conversion and righteousness. The coming of the Savior is a cause for rejoicing; it is also a call to repentance, and to practice justice and mercy.
When questioned about his identity, John explains that the Christ will not baptize only with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire, a foreshadowing of the powerful events on a future day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). It also highlights the message of salvation and judgment, both of which come in the Person of Jesus Christ. Are we, like Mary, ready to meet Him? Do we, like John, recognize Him among us?
(Originally published in the December 17, 2006, edition of Our Sunday Visitor.)
• Benedict XVI: Advent "invites us to remain silent as we come to appreciate a presence." (Nov. 30, 2009)
• Two for Advent (Nov. 19, 2009)
• "Be Vigilant At All Times" | A Reflection on the First Sunday of Advent | Carl E. Olson
• The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
• "All of life is Advent": On the life and death of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Abtei St. Walburg