The Temple and the Sacrifice, an Advent reflection

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

Scripture Reading:

  • First Reading: Zeph 3:14-18
  • Canticle: Isaiah 12
  • Second Reading: Phil 4:4-7
  • Gospel: Luke 3:10-18

Gaudete! Rejoice! The Church celebrates Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday in the third week of Advent. The priests wear rose color and christians lit the third pink candle in their advent wreath. Why does the church celebrates this rejoicing? In the second reading, Paul himself used the word “Rejoice!”.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

And as if it is not enough, the Prophet Zephaniah in the first reading also tells that not only the people will rejoice, but God himself will rejoice.

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
     as on a day of festival.

What is the reason of this rejoicing? Zephaniah tells us

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;

This is the reason for our rejoicing: the Lord our God is in our midst. Zephaniah speaks of “On that day…”, the Day of the Lord. On that Day, God will be in our midst, and this is the reason for rejoicing. That Day lead us to the Gospel reading where people flock to John the Baptist asking “What must we do?”

10 And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

At the first sight, it may seem the Gospel reading present to us a different mood. The first and second reading speaks of rejoicing, and here, in the Gospel, people were asking what they must do to repent. Isn’t it a different contrast? Maybe it is not.

When people were in expectation that John might be the Christ, he answered,

I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

John is speaking about someone who is coming, someone mightier than he is. He realized that his role was to prepare for this coming (2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C). Could it be that this someone mightier than John is what the Prophet Zephaniah proclaims? God himself?

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;

John gave a clue by saying that this someone mightier than he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. These two images bring us to the Temple of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit dwells in the Temple, and the image of fire reminds us of the Temple’s sacrifices, of the holocaust, burnt offerings.

There was this beautiful prayer by Azariah from the Book of Daniel (Dan 3).

Then Azari′ah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said:“Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise;and thy name is glorified for ever.For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us,and all thy works are true and thy ways right,and all thy judgments are truth.Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon usand upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our fathers,for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins.For we have sinfully and lawlessly departed from thee,and have sinned in all things and have not obeyed thy commandments;we have not observed them or done them,as thou hast commanded us that it might go well with us.So all that thou hast brought upon us,and all that thou hast done to us,thou hast done in true judgment.Thou hast given us into the hands of lawless enemies, most hateful rebels,and to an unjust king, the most wicked in all the world.And now we cannot open our mouths;shame and disgrace have befallen thy servants and worshipers.For thy name’s sake do not give us up utterly,and do not break thy covenant,and do not withdraw thy mercy from us,for the sake of Abraham thy belovedand for the sake of Isaac thy servantand Israel thy holy one,to whom thou didst promiseto make their descendants as many as the stars of heavenand as the sand on the shore of the sea.For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation,and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins.And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before thee or to find mercy.Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in thy sight this day, and may we wholly follow thee, for there will be no shame for those who trust in thee. And now with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy faceDo not put us to shame,but deal with us in thy forbearanceand in thy abundant mercy.Deliver us in accordance with thy marvelous works,and give glory to thy name, O Lord!Let all who do harm to thy servants be put to shame;let them be disgraced and deprived of all power and dominion,and let their strength be broken.Let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God,glorious over the whole world.”

Azariah prayed in the midst of the fire, and he retold the story of how the people have gone into exile, which is due to sins, and now there is no Temple where they can offer sacrifices to find Mercy. But Azariah in that midst of prayer said, his offering now is a contrite heart and a humble spirit. Azaraiah in a way prophecied the kind of worship that will inaugurates the new age when the people will

with all our heart we follow thee, we fear thee and seek thy face

This is the context of the people who are coming to John the Baptist. John is baptising the people for a repentance. He is bring a people that is coming with a contrite heart and a humble spirit. In fact, John is preparing a rededication of a New Temple!

When Solomon first built the Temple in Jerusalem, he dedicate it to God and this is what happens.

When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. (2 Chro 7:1)

Fire and Holy Spirit! The fire came and consumed the burnt offering and sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, filled the temple. John the Baptist is preparing for a New Temple, a temple that is not built on stones but on Christ himself. In Jesus, the glory of the Lord dwells. In Jesus, we see the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God who was slain.

But John said, that Jesus will baptise YOU with the Holy Spirit and fire. It is not enough that God just dwells in Jesus. God wants to dwell in …. you. God wants you to be his temple. And that’s why St. Paul can confidently said.

 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? (1 Cor 6:19)

We have become His Temple. The temple reminds us that God dwells in us. But the temple also reminds us that we are called to offer up sacrifices. In the Old Testament, the Temple and the Sacrifices are two different thing. But in the New Testament, Jesus is the Temple and the Sacrifrice. We are called to be this God’s dwelling and a holocaust. In the Old Testament, the sacrifice was physically and totally consumed. In the New Testament, the sacrifice is spiritually and totally consumed. In Jesus, we offer that one perfect sacrifice of love to the Father. What better sacrifice than doing the will of God?

“Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,
but a body hast thou prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’
as it is written of me in the roll of the book.” (Heb 10:5)

There is no conflict between rejoicing and repentance. We rejoice because God is coming to his temple, we are His temple. We, on our parts, are called to prepare this dedication of His temple through repentance. Just as a bride prepares herself for her bridegroom, we too in this Advent, prepare ourselves for our bridegroom. We are waiting for the time when He fully dwells in us and we in him, when we are truly one. We rejoice, because he pours out His Spirit to dwell in us. We rejoice because His fire will come from Heaven. The fire of love that will consume our contrite heart and humble spirit, our sacrifice of Love. The fire of love that allows us to follow Him whole heartedly, to fear Him, and to seek his face. We have come to do Thy will, O God. We rejoice because this great love that brings God to be in our midst. He does not send His Spirit and Fire and remain in Heaven. No. He comes to us in His Spirit and in His Fire. So it is appropriate for us to sing the Canticle from Isaiah,

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

 

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