Traditionally, the third week of Advent is an invitation to meditate on the theme of joy. With that in mind, this Sunday is often referred to as Gaudete Sunday, meaning rejoice. The hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” well expresses this invitation, so to get in the spirit I listened to the version by the seminal punk band Bad Religion.
Strange as it may seem, punk rock is a perfect entry point for this Sunday’s readings. Infamous for a sneering willingness to offend good taste and proper decorum, punk rock, to borrow again from Bad Religion, goes “against the grain.”
While punk is a diverse and complex social movement, its most enduring legacy is challenging unequal relations of power in society, drawing attention to unemployment, racism, and sexism through a do-it-yourself approach. Punk gave voice to hordes of disaffected youth who rejected the dominant culture and created critical and countercultural communities.
This week’s readings are thematically linked by a similar urgency and willingness to speak truth to power. Isaiah proclaims, “[God] has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Likewise, this week’s Psalm, Mary’s Magnificat, reads, “[God] has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich [God] has sent away empty.”
Advent is not only a season of attentive waiting and anticipation but also a time for practicing the art of prophetic speech. Preparing the path of Christ means reflecting upon the times when we have failed to speak truth to power and noticing future opportunities to do so. Indeed, the joy of this third week of Advent is taking comfort in the conviction that God is with us when we question a racist relative or a homophobic pastor. Prophetic speech is joyful speech. It is an act of rejoicing, because through it we discover Emmanuel, God with us, in solidarity with all those crying out in the wilderness.
Ed Sloane is originally from West Virginia. He serves as the board chair for the Catholic Committee of Appalachia and received his Ph.D. in religious education and pastoral ministry at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. His writing focuses on approaches to education in faith through the lens of ecological justice and place-based learning. Ed is also a high school theology teacher.