Third Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2008
I guess you have noticed by now our great fashion faux pas of the day: Father’s and my vestments don’t match. But it is really a part of the Good News of the Gospel! In the purple, dark waiting of this season, we have a day where the darkness is lightened by joy.
Today is “Gaudate Sunday," the Sunday of joy! When you take purple and lighten it, if you will, you get the color of the Rose. So, in a way, I have “Intense Rose” on, today!
So, welcome to Gaudate Sunday!
That term “Gaudate”means rejoice—be joyful over and over again—and it is from the entrance antiphon for today’s Mass. We almost never say it, because it is not said when an entrance hymn is sung. But it sums up the day. It is this: Gaudate in Domino semper: iterum dico, Dominus enim prope est. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”
Isn’t that great? The Lord is near!
Listen to these words from Malachi—he is the last prophet of the Old Testament before John the Baptist. John straddled the Old and the New. Here is the prophetic voice, God through Malachi:
Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. (Mal 3:1)
For years the Jews were calling to the Lord, for centuries! Listen again to Malachi: And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my own special possession, on the day I take action. And I will have compassion on them, (Mal 3:17).
God has always called to his people to return to him since the time of the fall from Eden; and man has called up to God to be with him. Listen to this from the prophet Isaiah: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, (Is 63:19b).
And God answered: He said:
I was ready to respond to those who asked me not, to be found by those who sought me not. I said: Here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not call upon my name. I have stretched out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, Who walk in evil paths (Is 65:1-2).
That was God’s answer to Prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Jesus.
Today’s first reading is also from Isaiah.
The prophet who announces the Good News of the glad tidings is:
“clothed with a robe of salvation” and
“wrapped in a mantle of justice.”
And in the mere proclamation of this year of favor the prophet is made righteous!
That first reading is the same one that Jesus read in the Synagogue at Capernaum, and Jesus is certainly God’s justice personified! Jesus said: “That prophesy is fulfilled in your hearing today.” He was there!
Suddenly, the Lord will appear in the Temple!
That is the beauty of these readings today. What is hidden in the Old Testament Prophets is revealed in the New Testament. The prophetic announcement of glad tidings is fulfilled in the announcement of John the Baptist.
But the day of the Lord is not merely near.
The day of the Lord is at hand!
For nearly 450 years, from the time of the final utterances of the prophet Malachi—the Jews had no prophetic voice. They waited and they watched, and they longed for the coming of the Messiah. I say all of this so that you realize the incredible impact of the appearance of John the Baptist on the scene: John breaks God’s silence!
After 450 years of no prophecy, John comes out of the desert clothed in the classic dress and in manner of a prophet.
What a sight he must have been! You couldn’t mistake him.
After 450 years, the prophet comes!
And prophets are committed to telling the truth in a direct and unvarnished way.
John certainly greeted the priests and Levites who went out to meet him—or who went to try to figure him out.
St. John’s Gospel leaves this out, but I want to show you what kind of welcome John the Baptist had for those who went out to see him. John doesn’t say “Welcome, my brothers and sisters!”
In Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, John says:
You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (Mt 3:7. Lk 3:7.)
Well, John was right. He calls them the “sons of snakes” and to some extent, that is where all of us are in our fallen state.
Obviously, with today's readings we jump from waiting for the birth of Jesus to the announcement of His mission. It is a way of reminding us who wait and remember and who rejoice in the birth of Jesus that he is already come.
We know this—Jesus has indeed come over two thousand years ago!
If he hadn’t come, we wouldn’t be here today. We would be waiting, longing—waiting for Messiah.
It is a reminder for us that we also wait for Jesus’ final coming at the end of days—a time when he will come as judge—but don’t be afraid—
the judgment is going to be on love. How well did we love.
Our JustFaith social justice group is about one-third of the way through a 30-week encounter of God’s justice.
The group recently had an experience of that announcement of glad tidings, of the love of God poured out in surprising places recently at an encounter with the poor in Philadelphia.
You have to know that the Hebrew word for “poor” means “bowed down.” It is “humble submission” to God. And even in material poverty, in poverty of health, of mind, God can break right in and turn sorrow to joy—turn mourning into dancing!
One of our JustFaith “border-crossers” who see what’s going on “on the other side” so to speak—had a transformational encounter with actual the joy of the poor. One of the poor said that she is never alone. She said: "God is with me. God smiles on me! He gets me through the day."
How about that?
Out of her poverty, out of her humble submission, the woman possesses a richness that so many of us still long for!
How many of us have said that today, or this past week? How many of us have taken the time to listen through the noise, to peer through the darkness—to see, to feel, to know that God is smiling on us!
Yet God has smiled upon us all in our poverty, in our “dustiness” our brokenness, our shortsightedness, our limited and finite incompleteness.
Today we rejoice because God calls out to us in our poverty.
John proclaims a Baptism with water, but we have a Baptism with water and the Holy Spirit that he says the One coming after will bring.
Certainly John is quick to remind the priests and Levites of his true identity.
He is only a voice of one who cries in the desert.
We might even wonder if John himself stood in the darkness with us, but with the important difference that John sees the light of our salvation in Jesus.
The priests and Levites ask John if he is Messiah, or Elijah, or the “prophet” by whom we understand Moses. John answers “I am not.” For John, this is a matter of identity.
The prophet John the Baptist, the Great I Am Not, who announces the coming of the Great I Am.
Gaudate in Domino semper: iterum dico, Dominus enim prope est.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”
The Lord is close at hand! The kingdom of God’s justice, love, and peace, is truly at hand for you and for me.