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A reading from the prophet Zephaniah                     3:14-18

Responsorial Psalm                              Isaiah 12:2-6. R/. v. 6


A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians    4:4-7   

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke    3:10-18

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A reading from the prophet Zephaniah                     3:14-18

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;

shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

O daughter of Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;

he has cleared away your enemies.

The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;

you shall never again fear evil.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

“Fear not, O Zion;

let not your hands grow weak.

The LORD your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival.

The word of the LORD.

Not many of the kings who ruled as shepherds of God’s people were inspired by God’s love or concerned to care for those entrusted to them.  In fact most were coercive and exploitative, much the same as neighbouring potentates, to such an extent that the prophet Ezekiel announced that God would bring an end to kingly rule:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the LORD God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

Ezekiel 34:1-6

  One king who took his faith seriously and who introduced a programme of religious reform (more a revolution) and pastoral renewal was Josiah in 623 B.C.  The Book of Zephaniah opens with a claim that “the word of the LORD” came to the prophet when Josiah was king. If that is so, then the prophet reflects everything that needed reform.  Things are so bad that the opening words speak of a very angry God determined “to take away the sins of the world” everywhere infecting the faith of God’s people:

“I will utterly sweep away everything

from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD.

“I will sweep away man and beast;

I will sweep away the birds of the heavens

and the fish of the sea,

and the rubble with the wicked.

I will cut off mankind

from the face of the earth,”

declares the LORD.

Zephaniah 1:1-3

The whole world is infected by the corruption of the faith of God’s people.  ‘The rubble of the wicked’, the sins of the people, will be wiped away in a universal destruction.  God, says Zephaniah, will stretch out his arm against Judah and its city of Jerusalem (1:4). Those who think their evil ways are a matter of indifference to God had better beware:

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,

and I will punish the men

who are complacent,

those who say in their hearts,

‘The LORD will not do good,

nor will he do ill. ’

Their goods shall be plundered,

and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,

they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,

they shall not drink wine from them,

The great day of the LORD is near,

near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter.

Zechariah 1:12-14

But wait!  Wait for me! - says the LORD (1:8).  God’s mercy will prevail.  God will turn the hearts of the people and “you will be haughty no more” (3:11).  Today’s reading announces that the Presence of the LORD, the LORD in your midst, will take away all that is evil.  Fear of the LORD must give way for the LORD “will quiet you by his love”. The fear that fills your hearts must give way to joy and hope.  Those assembling for a day of retribution will find themselves dancing and singing at a festival of joy.

  The coming of God, the presence of God, among us, is never a threat.  At the end of the day, though God reminds us endlessly of our failure to be what we are meant to be, there is always a hand to lift us up and point us to the stars.

Responsorial Psalm                             Isaiah 12:2-6. R/. v. 6


R/.  Shout, and sing for joy,

                  for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

“Behold, God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid;

for the Lord God is my strength and my song,

and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water

                    from the wells of salvation.                R/.

“Give thanks to the LORD,

call upon his name,

make known his deeds among the peoples,

                 proclaim his exalted name.                   R/.

“Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;

let this be made known in all the earth.

Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,

for great in your midst is

the Holy One of Israel.  

R/.  Shout, and sing for joy,

                  for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

  This song of Isaiah is like many of our songs.  It is made up of snatches cribbed from other songs, especially from hymns and psalms that give thanks to God for the great deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt.  Moses pinched a song from his sister (see Exodus 15:20) and sang with the people just delivered from the armies of Pharaoh:

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously

Exodus 15:2

Isaiah borrowed from the Psalms:

 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

Psalm 105:1

The LORD is my strength and my song;

he has become my salvation.

Psalm 118:14

  Today is traditionally known as “Gaudete Sunday”.  It is a day when our meditations on what is to come jump ahead to celebrate.  We anticipate the glory that will shine around the Crib. We sing with angels of the birth of our Saviour, as Mary sang her Magnificat before her child was born (Luke 1:46-55).

  But we must not get too carried away.  For, amidst “all the flag waving and cheers”, there is a word of obligation:

… make known his deeds among the peoples,

proclaim his exalted name.

So we sing today to remind us that the good news will turn to ashes in our mouths if we do not proclaim it to the peoples.  Pope Francis gives us a gentle nudge:

… there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility.  It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers.  This is the informal preaching that takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home.  Being a disciple means being  constantly  ready to bring  the love of Jesus to other people, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in the city square, during work, on a journey.  

Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, chapter 3, §127.

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians    4:4-7  

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The word of the LORD.

  Following from our second reading last week, we come again to the house-churches of Lydia and her friends in Philippi.  It is important in our time to pay attention to the women we meet in the New Testament.

  Chapter 4 of Paul’s letter begins with Paul’s final exhortations and greetings that bring his letter to a close.  He begins with a kindly plea to his brothers and sisters in the community of little churches in Philippi:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved ones.                                          Philippians 4:1   

Then he makes an appeal to two women Paul knows by name, Euodia and Syntyche, who seem to have been at odds with one another.  Paul recalls “how you have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers”.  Such was their labour with Paul in establishing the gospel of God in Philippi that Paul can say of them that “their names are in the book of life”.  He asks them to put aside whatever it is that has led to disagreement between them.

  These two ladies laboured at Paul’s side as other women did in his ministry.  They were probably women of substance and rank. Recall Paul’s meeting with women of Philippi and elsewhere in the region of Macedonia:

And on the Sabbath we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together there.    

Acts 16:13

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

(Paul’s visit to a synagogue in Thessalonica)   Acts 17:2-4

The brothers and sisters immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.   Acts 17:10-12

These women of substance who were fellow-workers with Paul in the proclamation of the gospel of God, remind one of the women who were so prominent in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.


  Paul’s farewell greetings to the Christians at Philippi continues with a loving command:  “Rejoice in the Lord always”. Whatever sufferings Paul endured, and they were many, whatever anxieties and difficulties his little flocks encountered, Paul counsels them to be joyful.   Twenty-one times in the authentic letters of Paul joy is posted as a mark of those who have embraced faith in Christ Jesus. Faith in what God has done for each, what in Christ he does for each, and faith in all that lies ahead - these are the foundations of our trust and the occasion of our joy.


Gentleness or forbearance, is opposed to whatever disagreement that prevailed between Euodia and Syntyche.  It is the very opposite of contention or self-aggrandisement. It is that quality of consideration for others.  The Letter of Titus reminds Christians “to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).  The Letter of 1 Peter asks house-servants to “submit to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle but even to those who are difficult” (1Peter 2:18).  James, the brother of the Lord, with his usual good sense, spells it out:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits,          impartial, and sincere.                                                                 James 3:17  

To meet Paul’s conselling on the matter of gentleness, be aware that the standard he asks for it is the very gentleness of Christ:

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ …                       2 Corinthians 10:1

The Lord is near

This is the reason why such standards are expected of those who commit themselves to Christ.  This is the reason why joy, consideration of others, forbearance and gentleness must prevail in every heart (and, we must say, in every parish). This conviction becomes for Paul a slogan, and goes back, I am sure, to his earliest convictions about God’s purpose in sending Jesus.  He expresses it in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, in 1 Corinthians 16:23:

Marana tha!

Our Lord, come!

It is that hope that fills our prayers, our songs of thanksgiving, and our asking of God for every blessing.  Especially, avoiding all rivalry and dissensions, we must know that,

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke    3:10-18

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

The Gospel of the LORD.

The first thing to notice as you read this chapter of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus and John are given no space together.  John is locked up in the prison of Herod the tetrarch before Luke reports that he baptised Jesus (3:18-20). This is what Luke reports:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You  are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22

Why?  Why does Luke insist that John and Jesus had the briefest meeting, and exchange no words together, especially as his Gospel gives so much space to reporting the facts surrounding his conception and birth and comments extensively on those events (Luke1:2-5-25 and 1:39-80)?  There is also the extended account of the Baptist and his preaching in Luke 3:1-20, as our Gospel readings on this and last Sunday record.

 It might be that John the Baptist created a movement that did not come to an end when Jesus began his ministry of preaching and healing.  There is that interesting account of a Jew named Apollos:

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Acts of the Apostles 18:24-26

There are some very interesting facts in this short account.  First, this occurs well into the preaching life of Paul. He has already reached Europe and visited Philippi, Thessaloniki, Athens and Corinth (see chapters 16 -18 in the Acts of the Apostles) and returned to the city of Antioch in Syria and turned back again to Ephesus on the far west coast of what is now Turkey.  It is there that Apollos, a man competent in the Jewish Scriptures, preached Jesus in the local synagogue but “knew only the baptism of John”. The influence of the Baptist did not disappear when he was executed by Herod Antipas.

   Secondly, notice that it is the married couple Priscilla and Aquila who travelled with Paul at this time and who took Apollos aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately”, so that he continued his mission to Jewish people “showing by the Scriptures that the Messiah was Jesus (Acts 18:28).    

   Luke gives evidence in his second work (Acts of the Apostles) of a persistent Baptist movement.  He does not emphasise this and so does not bring John and Jesus together beyond what he records in chapter 1 of his Gospel.  It is worth noting that the Christian story did not emerge unchallenged. Making its way in the world was difficult and sometimes dangerous.  Its rapid growth was in no small way due to the ministry of people like Priscilla and her husband Aquila (see Romans 16:3 and 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19).  Notice, too, that every mention of the couple names Priscilla first, rather than her husband, a most unusual occurrence.

What then shall we do?    

The crowds (not “all the people”, as our Lectionary has it) ask Jesus “What then are we to do?” in response to the attack Jesus makes on them for their reliance on their descent from Abraham.  Jesus has come to declare that God can raise up children of Abraham from the stones on the ground. That is to say, it’s not who you are that counts. It’s what God can make of you that is magnificently possible and gloriously exciting. A new age has dawned.

     The ‘crowd’ is mentioned 99 times in the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.  ‘The crowds’ are mentioned 45 times in those five books. The ‘crowd’ appears 21 times in Luke’s Gospel and eight times in Acts. ‘Crowds’ occur 12 times in his Gospel and 6 times in Acts.  These are not simply anonymous people who happen to turn up now and again. They are the mass of people that are drawn to Jesus and Jesus to them. The crowd or crowds make up potential disciples; they are the ordinary people to whom Jesus preached the word of God and to whom Paul and the women and men who shared in his ministry addressed themselves.  They are, above all, the people Jesus welcomed, the people Jesus fed:

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and healed those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.

Luke 9:10-13

Jesus did not send the crowd away.  He invited them to sit down. He doesn’t ask them if they are worthy, merely if they are hungry.

  What Jesus demands of the crowds is that they become sharers.  It is the old teaching of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, everybody who knew anything about God and his concerns.  If manna is given in the desert to feed the hungry, then Jesus feeds the crowds who come to him and demands that his people do the same. The Bible from beginning to end demands that the poor, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, be raised to decent living, to freedom, to dignity.  When Jesus opened the scroll, as we shall see, he made sure to find the place where it is written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

Luke 4:18-19

All of Luke’s Gospel is in that quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2.  Jesus could, of course, have told the people in his local synagogue in Nazareth that he also endorsed an earlier demand that Isaiah made :

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of wickedness,

to undo the straps of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,

and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up speedily;

your righteousness shall go before you;

the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Isaiah 58:6-8

The counsel given to the crowds is essentially the same for the tax collectors, the soldiers, and, indeed, for all.  If light is to come into our world, then righteousness must prevail.

The people

  The crowds having received teaching from John are transformed. Having heard the word, the crowds are transformed into ‘the people’.  The word Luke uses here for ‘people’ is laos, (from which we get the word “laity”), word Luke uses 86 times.  The word occurs 49 times in his Gospel and 37 times in Acts. Nearly every occasion directly or indirectly means ‘the people of God’, ‘the people of Israel’.  It is, nearly always, a technical term as used in the Old Testament to designate the people of Israel in their vocation to be God’s holy people:

I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

Exodus 29:45

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy”.

Leviticus 19:1-2

  “The people were in expectation”.  The people “were questioning in their hearts”.  To fulfil these expectations, to still the questioning, John tells this holy people of God about Jesus who will wrap them in the Holy Spirit and put fire into their hearts.  These people of God have Pentecost to look forward to.

 Wheat will be gathered into barns and chaff engulfed in unquenchable fire.  What the winnower did was to toss the sheaves into the air with a fork in order for the wind to blow the chaff away, dislodging the grain on to the ground.  This, says John the Baptist, is what the Holy Spirit and fire, the gifts of the Messiah, will do. The wheat will be gathered into God’s barns, the chaff will be swept up and burned.  Do not press the metaphor too far and begin to think of the fires of hell (another metaphor). The emphasis is on the wheat. The final sentence of today’s reading is the defining one and it is important to translate it with great care::

So therefore with many other exhortations he was gospelling the people.

Luke uses a verb here.  The verb is used only once by Matthew in 11:5.  Luke uses it 10 times in his Gospel and 15 times in Acts and it is used in total 54 times throughout the New Testament.  It is a favourite of Luke’s. Of course, since there is no such verb in English we get the Jerusalem Bible translation and many others turning the verb into a noun:  “to announce the Good News to them”. The Jerusalem Bible translation on our present lectionary also omits the word laos (people), thus diminishing the force of Luke’s understanding of this little word.  By gospelling the crowds, John and Jesus transform the crowds into a people, the new people of God.  Jesus takes the crowd in his arms and wraps them around with the joy of the gospel of God, fills their hearts with the word of love, and meets their questioning minds with the sure hope of God’s promises.   

Joseph O’Hanlon



On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Rejoicing, tells in our readings that crowds are turned into people, into God’s people, it is a fitting day to place Joseph in the crib.  Let him be borne on hymns and songs. Without Joseph there would be no story to tell. He, too, is at the creation of a new people of God:

Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:21-22