December 11, 2022
It is my favourite Sunday! Rose day! Gaudete! Gaudete in Latin means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening of the Mass for that day: Gaudete in Domine Semper, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. Gaudete Sunday is also a reminder that Advent is quickly passing; the Lord’s coming is near. The focus is turning more to the second coming than the first and there is a heightened sense of intense joy, gladness and expectation in our readings.
The Gospel readings for Gaudete Sunday always revolve around John the Baptist as the thrust of John’s ministry is the announcement that the Lord’s coming is near and is in fact nearer than you think.
I was looking back over the lectionary to see which stories of John the Baptist are used on this particular Sunday. Year B has set John 1 (the Gospel) where John the Baptist gives his testimony to the priests and Levites sent by the Jews to check him out. Year C has set Luke 3 where John chastises the Pharisees and Sdducees, brands them a ‘brood of vipers’ and calls for them to repent. Year A sets John in prison awaiting his fate.
On the face of it, none of these events provide obvious reasons to rejoice!
As a refresher, John was sent to jail by Herod. John had been attacking Herod over marrying his brother’s ex-wife which was less than appropriate. John had also been announcing that the Kingdom of God, the true kingdom was coming. Herod wasn’t the real king; God would replace him. John was likely not experiencing intense joy or gladness and his expectations of getting out alive may have been low.
The four prison walls closing in must surely have limited his vision. So much so that John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’
I offer some thoughts about why John asked that question…
One suggestion is that John was disappointed. Maybe he was expecting Jesus to be a man of fire who would sweep through Israel as Elijah did and right all the wrongs. Maybe Jesus was supposed to confront Herod, topple him from his throne, become king in his palace, get John out of prison and give him a place of honour. Or at least let him live.
But Jesus is not doing this. He is healing the blind and deaf, cleansing the lepers, befriending the sinners, the tax collectors, ordinary men and women and teaching them about the things of God. Maybe not doing what John wanted him to do. So maybe John is thinking ‘was I wrong?!’
The other suggestion for John’s question is that he wants to know if it is safe for him to give up, to hand the mission on. John was the one to herald the coming of God’s Messiah. How could he do that from a prison cell? Maybe he couldn’t relax until he knew whether or not he had done his job.
John’s ministry only lasted about a year. Maybe John thought he would have more time, that his purpose would take longer to be fulfilled. John is waiting to see if what he has done in the past was right; waiting in the present to see if Jesus is the one; and waiting to see if there is another yet to come.
In his waiting and hoping John gets an answer back; and it probably was not what he was expecting! What Jesus sent back could not be more different from the message that John preached. John shouted for repentance in the face of the wrath of God: he spoke of axes cutting down dead trees and unquenchable fires. Jesus speaks of mercy, healing and rejoicing. Jesus lists the great signs of the coming of the Messiah which had all been prophesied in the past.
Jesus answers John by quoting Isaiah 35 which John would have known. It is a message all about John. The wilderness, which was John’s home, will rejoice and bloom, the fearful of heart are to be comforted. John is in prison, awaiting certain death. How can he not be afraid?
I think that John knew that Jesus was the Messiah. After all John was the baby that leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when her cousin Mary and her baby (Jesus) came to visit. John the Baptizer knew Jesus the Messiah the moment he saw him at the Jordan River. John knew in his head who Jesus really was.
But time and circumstance can dull the image of our faith perception and leave us feeling not sure what we believe.
John’s question had more to do with his heart than his head. John had heard about the miracles and healings Jesus was doing for others and perhaps his faith was shaken. He certainly could have used a miracle for himself and he didn’t appear to be getting one. And sitting in that prison cell John might have been having a little trouble knowing it with his heart. Sometimes our faith gets shaken by what we do not get or what God has not done for us personally.
I spoke to an older lady a while ago. She was very honest about where she was at with faith. She told me that after her husband had died after a long period of illness; she came to the conclusion that ‘if there was a God – why did her husband suffer the way he did?’ She couldn’t believe in a God like that. Neither can I.
I don’t have a good answer for that question. There are theological or doctrinal answers that are pastorally unhelpful in these situations. Equally there are pastoral answers that deny the theological problems these situations raise.
Ann Garrido – (Dec 11th): Today the Church is garbed in pink – that colour of hope in the midst of darkness. We are reminded that even though daylight is difficult to come by and waiting is hard, we are not to cave in to despair but to be open to and sustained by those signs already present in the world around us that let us know that God is at work. While we have not seen the kingdom of God yet in its fullness, there are ways in which that future is breaking into our own time even now – bursts of illumination and freedom, connection and healing. Our faith does not hinge on promises still unfulfilled but on promises in the process of being fulfilled this very day.’
Either way, many of us have endured long stretches of suffering, waiting, longing and hoping for God to come through for us. Maybe in those times we have seen or heard of wondrous works He was doing elsewhere. And it hurts! It is painful! The doubts that these types of situations create are probably not coming from our heads but our hearts, our feelings, our hurts.
John was not like ‘a reed swayed by the wind’ – he was a man of conviction. He was a man of little personal vanity and had a huge commitment to God’s kingdom. If he can have a doubt or two then it is safe to have some of our own doubts.
Gaudete in the face of suffering and uncertainty. It won’t last forever. The Lord is near. I will end this sermon with a poem.
Gaudete by Brad Reynolds
Because Christmas is almost here
Because dancing fits so well with music
Because inside baby clothes are miracles.
Because some people love you
Because of chocolate
Because pain does not last forever
Because Santa Claus is coming.
Because of laughter
Because there really are angels
Because your fingers fit your hands
Because forgiveness is yours for the asking
Because of children
Because of parents.
Because the blind see.
And the lame walk.
Because lepers are clean
And the deaf hear.
Because the dead will live again
And there is good news for the poor.
Because of Christmas
Because of Jesus