Third Sunday of Advent, "Gaudate" Sunday, Year A, December 12, 2010.
[Is 35:1–6a. Ps 146:6–7, 8–9, 9–10. Jas 5:7–10. Mt 11:2–11.]
|Alexander Andrejewitsch Iwanow: Head of John the Baptist|
That term “Gaudate”: rejoice—be joyful over and over again—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:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”
Isn’t that great? The Lord is near!
We need to hear this today!
It was certainly great news to those who were looking for and waiting for the Messiah to come. This was a time of longing for the Jews, a wait that spanned lifetimes: the Jews were calling to the Lord for centuries!
And God has been calling back!
God has always called all 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).
That was some 700 years before the birth of Jesus. And from that same Prophet Isaiah, we hear good news that we heard in the first reading today:
"The desert and the parched land will exult; will rejoice, will bloom! "
Just imagine that kind of joy: Joy so great that it sets a desert into blooming!
Joy so great that even the plants smile back!
And then these amazing words:
"say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with
vindication; with divine recompense
he comes to save you."
He comes to Save us!
And then, from our Gospel reading, there is John the Baptist, alone and in prison. And from that dark cell, where he can see very little daylight, and certainly not the stars, He calls to his disciples and he tells them
to go and ask Jesus:
“Are you the one who is to come?....
This question, from the man who was making straight the path of Jesus!
This: from the man who even before he was born, leapt in the womb of his mother at the voice of Mary,
the mother of his savior.
When Jesus came to be baptized by John, it is certain that John knew Jesus, because he said:
“I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"
Jesus insisted, though to “fulfill all righteousness." (Mt 3:14–15).
And now, on this day of rejoicing comes the one little sad question. It should kind of bother us a little bit:
"Are you the one?"
Maybe John’s prison time brought him into doubt, but I think that John was a good teacher, a good messenger, to the end. So in that process of him decreasing and Jesus increasing, the time had come to send his disciples to Jesus.
And as a good rabbi, he sends them with a question.: "Are you the one?"
John’s disciples need to ask for themselves.
And listen to this amazing response from Jesus:
Jesus replies that the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, even the dead are raised!
These are amazing signs of the messiah!
So, in true rabbinic fashion, Jesus tells these people to look and see what is going on – look what he is doing: these are signs of the messiah.
And Jesus adds this very important statement:
“And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus offers this beatitude, this blessing on those who are not offended, not disappointed that Jesus is not a warrior with sword and dagger.
Instead, he brings love. And I would think that there is no person so strong as one who puts on love above all else. There is no person so strong or so free…
As one who is drawn by cords of love. Not by cords of hatred or violence.
In Jesus’ poetic way, he is really telling John, in words of today: “John, today, if you’re looking at me, what you see is what you get.”
But, remember John is in prison. He doesn’t see. Can we excuse him that?
After all, maybe you and I, in a certain manner, are in prison, too: Maybe we are being held captive by whatever it is of the world that keeps us from seeing the stars…, or for that matter, anything that interferes with our ability to see.. not with physical eyes, but with the eyes of the heart.
Maybe the bars of our prisons stand in the way of the stars that pinpoint in so many uncounted numbers
the light should give us great hope.
Could it be that we don’t truly understand Jesus?
Could it be that Jesus is not fulfilling our expectations about who and what a Messiah should be?
He does not slay our enemies.
We still have all kinds of illnesses and disabilities. Injustice, abuse of power, oppression, they are all still with us.
So, if Jesus didn’t bring an end to all these things—just what did He bring us?
There is a simple answer: Jesus brings us God!
God who walks with us! God who sweats and eats and drinks with us..
God who smiles at us… who is cold and tired and hungry with us…
He shares our human condition. And he blesses those who take no offense at Him.
And then we have John back at the prison. John is straining to see the stars through the prison bars.
And, on that subject of the stars…
We are encouraged, even though today is a solemnity of the Lord, to call to mind that December 12 is usually celebrated as the feast of the most Blessed Mother under her title of “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
She is the patroness of all the Americas.
And I want to call your attention to this particular image of her manifestation, because there is a particular “star significance” about her mantle.
Scientists who have investigated the original miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe discovered this magnificent fact among many others:
When they took the pattern of the stars on Our Lady’s mantle, and laid it out over a construction of the position of the stars in December 1531, there is an exact match of the position of the constellations as seen in Mexico on Dec. 12th and the stars that adorn the mantle of our Lady of Guadalupe.
Another miraculous sign.
And just as John the Baptist pointed his disciples to Jesus, so we know the Blessed Mother also points always to Jesus.
That is even more reason to rejoice today! Because these two great “pointings” intersect in the liturgical calendar this year!
And yet, back at the Gospel scene, there is John in prison, and Jesus tells us that even the “least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he!
Poor John! Less than the least in the kingdom?
There is something new going on with Jesus – and while John is the messenger—the last man in a long line of prophets—the man who points to Jesus, the ones whose hearts are changed as well as their minds, are the ones who follow Jesus…
They are what is called ontologically changed – changed at the very root of their being—their hearts and minds and very bodies are walking with Jesus!
These are the ones who are of the kingdom of heaven!
This doesn’t mean that John is eternally doomed. No, that is certainbly not it.
It should tell us that while John points to the promise, Jesus transforms those who follow them.
Jesus makes all things new!
You and I, transformed by our Baptism: We all become co-workers in his vineyard of redemption.
Jesus offers us a share in it even today.
And every day – he offers us a sharing of his divine life in the Eucharist!
He helps us to be born again, over and over…recreated in his image.
Today, and throughout the year, God smiles at us!
How about that? How many of us have taken the time to understand that in all of the hustle and bustle of our lives, God smiles at us!
And so let’s take that with us today: let us Rejoice because he calls out to us and to all creation…
Jesus’ great promise of salvation is like all heaven looking down in the darkness with one huge, cosmic smile!
Today we rejoice because God calls out to us in our poverty!
So on this Sunday of Rose, this Sunday of “Gladness”, let us simply: Rejoice in the Lord always!