On the Gospel of John 1:6-8, 19-28
3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
Today the Church celebrates Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, a welcome respite from the usual penitential atmosphere of Advent and in the readings two themes merge. Perhaps you may have noticed the Priest wearing rose coloured vestments or some colourful flowers around the sanctuary. The heightened sense of the Lord’s presence is palpable as we joyfully await His coming. The Prophet Isaiah, who has been prominent throughout our Advent journey thus far, sets the tone for this joy. The responsorial psalm reminds us of Mary’s uncontainable delight as the Magnificat pours forth so freely from the depths of her heart. The second reading sees Saint Paul encouraging us to rejoice because the Lord is coming. In the Gospel we find in John the Baptist the testimony of one who is consumed by the Lord. Christian joy and Christian witness come together today. However, this should not be seen as an artificial or forced union; how could it be? Joy is the most natural outcome for hearers of this life-giving message and is itself a witness.
It is true of course that this does not necessarily translate into a care free life in the obvious way our society understands joy. Christians are as susceptible to the turmoil of life as anybody else. Yet, we have hope. This hope in a loving God perfects our good times and props us up when we are low. It is a notion our world does not understand. Still, it is significant the way the Priests and Levites approached John and asked ‘who are you?’ The same question is being asked the world over today. We are all searching for God though sometimes we don’t realise it and we inadvertently refer to Him as ‘happiness’. We search and search for this elusive happiness but because it is so ill-defined and changeable it is impossible to grasp. As witnesses, this is the source of our mandate, confirmed by Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel when He urges us to go and preach to all nations. We are charged with re-introducing our estranged brothers and sisters to Jesus.
Of course, Jesus leaves us in no doubt that it can be a costly enterprise to follow Him but then again who could ever out-do God in charity? Who has ever been his creditor? We tend to find ourselves on the margins in an unbelieving society. We are sometimes seen as social outcasts in a world dominated by false gods because we trust that our happiness lies in the promises made to us by the only One who actually has the power to realise it. Like John, we sometimes need to be brave. Each of us will no doubt at some stage find ourselves in situations where we will be faced with choices. Witnessing to the Truth by confidently deciding in our hearts and confirming with our mouths that ‘I am for Jesus’ can be daunting. That is what we are called to do. The courage to do so will undoubtedly be given to us if we ask for it. God wants us to have a relationship with Him; He invites us to speak with Him and to spend time with Him. If we could somehow understand the beautiful thing we have been made for – union with God – we would most fully and truly be alive. He is ever willing with arm outstretched, waiting for us to reciprocate His movement towards us.
How to preach Christ and not ourselves is also challenging and in John we have a prime example. Compelled by their taskmasters, the Priests and Levites pressed John to identify himself. It is powerful to see how John describes himself only in terms of Jesus. John’s humility is so profound that he describes himself only in relation to Christ. He would later go on to declare that ‘He (Jesus) must increase, I must decrease’. This is not an easy standard to adhere to but let us pray for the grace to keep trying. Every one of us as believers, like John the Baptist, are called to witness joyfully to the hope we have within us. The whole of creation does as much. The Prophet Daniel reassures us that mountains, streams, birds and trees also witness to God’s glory. Our joy is a witness in its own right. When people see us leading joyful, faithful lives they will wonder as to the source of it and at that stage all roads lead to Christ. This Gaudete Sunday let us take a little time to thank God for the countless blessings He bestows on us each day. It is a sure sign that His joy dwells within us.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
– John 1:6-8, 19-28