Third Sunday of Advent: Is 61:1-2 & 10-11; 1 Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8 & 19-28

“My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. He looks on his servant in her nothingness, henceforth all ages will came me blessed.”

Mary’s Magnificat, proclaimed as the Responsorial Psalm for this third Sunday of Advent, summons the Church to joyful and expectant hope. It would be difficult to imagine a sharper contrast than that between this Advent joy and the doom-laden predictions of many economic forecasters. This stark contrast prompts us to question our hopes for the future. If our hopes are for future and continuing economic growth, then we are poor indeed. If, with Mary, we place our trust in what the Lord has promised, our hopes are surely founded.

The present economic crisis is, in the last analysis, an expression of sinful humanity’s inability to manage its own future. Mary’s joy rested on something more secure than the shifting sands of human achievement. She rejoiced not in her own hopes, but as the one whom the Lord had regarded in her nothingness, the one who had conceived within herself the promise of God’s salvation.

St Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, expressed the same unshakeable hope. To a vulnerable and newly established Church he wrote: “Be happy at all times. May the God of peace make you perfect and holy for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you, and he will not fail you.”

Paul rejoiced in spite of the frailty and poverty of human hope. His confidence rested in the Lord who calls us to himself. Like those early Christians, we are surrounded by uncertainty on every side. With St Paul we bring the frailty of our hope to the certainty of God’s promise.

Long ago, at the most uncertain chapter in Israel’s long history, the Prophet Isaiah had spoken words of hope. A future Messiah, enabled by God’s own Spirit, would bring good news to poor, would bind up hearts that were broken.

Every generation is embraced by the words of this promise. When we can no longer hope for the future we are the poor to whom the servant would bring good news. When we feel trapped by the past, hemmed in by sin and disappointment, we are the captives to whom the servant would proclaim liberty. Let us open our hearts to a future of God’s making. Let us experience anew the hidden joy entrusted to us by the Father: the joy of knowing that his Spirit moves in our lives.

By the very humility of his appearance, John the Baptist demonstrated the disposition that kindles within us the joy of dawning salvation. He made no claims for himself. He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light. He was not the Christ, nor the foundation for their hopes. Turning from himself, he pointed to one who was, unknown to them, already standing in their midst.

Prompted by the words of John the Baptist let us seek the Lord who lives among us, who stands at the door of our busy lives.
John the Baptist, claiming to be unfit to undo the sandal strap of the coming Messiah, was one with Mary who acknowledged her nothingness. Both rejoiced to play their part in his coming. Humility, forgetful of itself, discovers itself in the presence
of God.

During the days ahead let us find time away from the inevitably pressing demands of a festive season. In the stillness of prayer let us come to the lasting joy of acknowledging the Christ in our midst.