Sometimes called the Shepherds' Candle.
Today's readings seem to have the recurring theme of the healing and freeing of the disabled and imprisoned, and in general relief to the suffering:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
The LORD God keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
The LORD gives sight to the blind;
the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Last week and this week the Gospel readings were related to John the Baptist, which is not conducive to a sentimental, cozy enjoyment of the Christmas season. That is because the world's calendar and the church calendar are not in sync. By the world's calendar (using the world to mean popular culture in my own world), we are currently in the Christmas season. It starts the day after Thanksgiving and ends by dinnertime on Christmas. It is about buying presents, decorating the house, going to parties, and opening presents. After the presents are open, the decorations are messy, the kids are screaming, and you have to go back to work tomorrow. Christmas is over, though "the holidays" linger until New Year's, the aftermath of which is still more dreary because there really is no more holiday ahead.
But by the church calendar (and here I am relying on the Roman Catholic Church -- my fellow members of the catholic church), Advent is a penitential season, like Lent. The church's Christmas Season starts on December 25 and lasts through January 5 (the twelve days of Christmas). January 6th is Epiphany, and that is the day the Wise Men come. The season of Epiphany lasts until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
So, anyway, some of the readings do seem more penitential than celebratory, and that is why.
John the Baptist, for me, is not comfortable reading. He's odd, for one thing, wearing animal skins and eating locusts and wild honey. Is that really necessary? And his rhetoric is distasteful. Always calling people hypocrites and broods of vipers, talking about axes and fire. But, there he is, in the Bible, in the Gospels, commended by and loved by Jesus, so we've got to read about him and at least listen to him and hope it does us good.
(I am back-dating this post, because I did not get to it on the actual Third Sunday of Advent.)