'Let the wasteland rejoice and bloom' (Is 35:1)

Rejoice! He is Near

On the Gospel of Matthew 11:2-11

Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday'Let the wasteland rejoice and bloom' (Is 35:1)

This Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, is known as Gaudete Sunday (gaudete means ‘Rejoice’ in Latin). The last two Sundays we have been focussing on the need for vigilance and repentance. All this had the aim of clearing away space within ourselves for God to grow something beautiful in us. This Sunday has a different flavour: now we take a look at what is growing and give thanks for it, our mood changes from one of vigilance to one of joyful expectancy. The first two readings (Isaiah 35:1-6,10 and James 5:7-10) present us with these themes of growth and hope. The Prophet Isaiah imagines the response of the land to the coming of God: ‘Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy’ (Isaiah 35:1,2). The Letter of James tells us to ‘think of a farmer’ who patiently ‘waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains… Do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon’ (James 5:7-8).

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt 11:2-11), John the Baptist asks Jesus a simple question: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ In reply to a simple question, John gets a simple answer, neither boastful nor an understatement: ‘the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me’. The Messiah is with his people, the Saviour of the World is with all of humanity, to heal us and make us whole.

As always in Advent, the scripture with which we are presented is multi-layered. On the one hand, by reading prophecy we remember Israel’s waiting for its Messiah, but we are also waiting for the second coming of Christ, just like the author of the epistle. We are a ‘waiting people’ – there is a ‘not yet’ written into our DNA as Christians. However, the Gospel reminds us of an important fact: Christ has come, he has made his home among us. Alongside the ‘not yet’ of our waiting, there is the ‘already’ of Christ’s presence.

We are waiting for him to come again in glory, we are waiting to celebrate his birth at Christmas, we are waiting for the tree of life to grow to full stature in our hearts… but on Gaudete Sunday, we pause to rejoice in the nearness of Christ to us.

 

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: he blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 11:2-11

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