Advent 3B

Last revised: December 26, 2023
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3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT — YEAR B
RCL: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
RoCa: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Opening Comments: Preaching a Gospel of New Creation

In 2023, the key to preaching the Gospel Reading was to add one more verse, John 1:29: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” The resulting sermon is actually Part 2 from the previous Sunday; for an introduction see the page for Advent 2B and the sermonWhat the World Needs Now Is . . . Repentance, Part 1.” I propose the idea that the Sin of the world which Jesus came to take away was sacrifice, introducing the basic anthropology of ritual blood sacrifice in archaic societies — for which “Lamb of God” is an obvious reference — and how that ritualized sacrifice carries a logic which undergirds much of human societies, in general — such as executing people on crosses.

So what does this mean for us today? In the church, we see it in the atonement theory of the cross that most of us have been taught. Quite simply, that understanding of the cross lapses back into the old logic of sacrifice. And it can bleed into so many aspects of our church life. One place is in a “sacrificial” view of Holy Communion; I offer slight modifications of the Words of Institution for the liturgy that day. This logic also undergirds our view of justice in society today and so many other things. This sermon will set-up how we understand our world in many sermons to come. The bottom line is how the cross begins a process of radical transformation of how we view the world. See the sermonWhat the World Needs Now Is . . . Repentance, Part 2.”

In 2023 Advent 4B and Christmas Eve fell on the same day. Our parish celebrated only the latter, and so I continued the theme of radical repentance on Christmas Eve with the sermonWhy God Became Human,” featuring a well-known and loved Christmas story from old-time radio personality Paul Harvey.


Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Resources

1. Paul Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic, pp. 46-77. This passage is the centerpiece of chs. 60-62 and is basically a reiteration of much of Isaiah 42:1-9, one of the Suffering Servant songs.

2. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke,” audio tape #3, side A. It might be helpful to make the connection through Jesus’ reading of this passage in Luke 4. These lectures are also archived online in small parts; this portion is “Part 10.”

Reflections and Questions

1. The “year of our Lord’s favor” is a reference to the Jubilee Sabbath Year, cf., Lev. 25:8-18. It is a year in which those who have been victims of the sacrificial institutions get a reprieve for a year. In 1999 the Catholic Church lifted up the theme of Jubilee in the face of all the millennialist stuff — a worthwhile strategy.

2. This is the passage that Jesus reads in Luke 4. Jesus proclaims himself as the fulfillment of the Jubilee year, a year for victims — and almost becomes one on the spot, as he narrowly misses a spontaneous lynching.


1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Reflections and Questions

1. Constant prayer, rejoicing and giving thanks. These are themes in several of Paul’s letters, most notably Philippians 4. (Philippians is also the letter that most emphasizes positive imitation.) Are prayerful rejoicing and thanksgiving remedies for mimetic rivalry? Giving thanks in all circumstances would seem to counteract the felt lack of things when mimetic rivalry comes knocking. We live under an economic system which has a basic assumption that there is a scarcity of goods that must be fairly distributed. Where does this assumption of scarcity come from? It comes from mimetic rivalry, doesn’t it? When two children are fighting over a single toy in a room full of toys there seems a scarcity of toys to them. It would seem that a prayerful attitude of giving thanks in all circumstances would be to live by a different basic assumption than scarcity. This might also relate to the theme of the Jubilee year, whose economic assumptions would also seem to live according to abundance rather than scarcity.


John 1:6-8, 19-28

Resources

1. René Girard, The Girard Reader, chs. 13-14, on Satan and on the question of anti-Semitism in the Gospels. As I mentioned in last week’s notes, John the Baptist plays a prominent role as the other murder most closely akin to the Passion in the synoptic gospels. The theme of these two articles is very important, I think: namely, that the violence of the cross is not a unique violence. A twist to much teaching that has gone under the name of Christian has been to attempt making the cross unique in every fashion. But hasn’t that led to a sacrificial reading in which Jesus’ Father was willing to sacrifice him? Rather, says Girard, the gospels are trying to show us how the violence revealed in the cross is structurally identical to much of the violence since the foundation of the world. It’s violence is not unique. John the Baptist is the closest forerunner in the sense that he will die the same type of violent death.

2. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of John,” audio tape #3. Link to my notes/transcription of his lecture on John 1:19-51.

3. James Alison, a video homily for Advent 3B; in 2020 Alison began a new website during the pandemic, “Praying Eucharistically,” which included weekly homilies.

4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from December 15, 2002 (Woodside Village Church); and sermon from December 14, 2008 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto).

5. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby, a sermon in 2011, titled “Pointing to the Light“; John Davies, a sermon in 2017, “John’s Revelation Trumps Empire’s Apocalypse.”

Reflections and Questions

1. A striking feature of this lectionary text is how it has been taken out of the wider context of John 1. The strong element of rejection and victimization has been left out so that the passage more closely resembles the synoptic accounts introducing us to John the Baptist. The preacher may want to add them back in.

2. As we said above, mimetic theory interprets John’s murder on a continuum with Jesus’. The cross is not unique in its violence. Yet this John the Baptist material has John emphasize his difference from Jesus. Why is that? Is this to reflect a situation of non-rivalry? The theme of Jesus’ deference to his Father in heaven is also very strong in John’s gospel. John defers to Jesus; Jesus defers to the Father. There is no mimetic rivalry here.

3. Yet how do we characterize, or interpret John’s own characterization of, the difference between John and Jesus, especially in light of pointing to the sameness in their murders? Once again these verses out of context from the rest of John 1 do us a disservice. We do not catch that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit (vs. 33), which in John’s gospel is the Paraclete, the Defense Attorney, who will reveal Jesus’ innocence. The role of the Holy Spirit in those murders would seem to constitute the difference between them. With John’s murder, we don’t yet come to fully see his innocence as a structural feature of the scapegoating mechanism; with the help of the Holy Spirit, we do come to see this about Jesus’ murder.

Another possibility: As mentioned last week, Gil Bailie suggests that a crucial part of the difference is that John lets himself get into a relationship of scandal with Herod Antipas.

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