Liturgical Context

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, lectionary cycle A, and again John the Baptist features prominently in the gospel text. Yesterday we considered the scriptural context of the gospel reading. Now we consider the liturgical context of its use here on the 3rd Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday.

On the 2nd Sunday of Advent, our Gospel reading presented the preaching of John the Baptist. Near the end of this reading, Matthew portrays John, not only as a prophet, but as a forerunner to Jesus. John is quoted as speaking about “the one who is coming after me,” who “is mightier than I” (3:11), which makes this selection especially appropriate for Advent.  On the 3rd Sunday of Advent this year, we read the episode in which John, already in prison, sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (11:3). Jesus does not respond directly, but simply points out that he is doing the things Isaiah mentions in describing a time when people will experience God’s glory and splendor, restoration and salvation (alluding to Isa 35:1-6, this Sunday’s first reading). It is this accent, in anticipation of its joyous fulfillment that gives Gaudete Sunday its focus.

In either its scriptural or liturgical focus, a key point is that if both prophet and Messiah have appeared, then their joint call to repentance (recall 3:2; 4:17) must be urgently heeded – be it John’s message unremittingly austere or Jesus also preaching the joy of the kingdom (11:16–19).

Image credit: The Sacrament of Ordination (Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter), c. 1636-40, by Nicholas Poussin, Public Domain

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