So far in Advent we have been preparing for the coming of the Messiah. Advent is more than half over so it’s time to pause and rejoice that Christ’s coming is near. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. We use a rose-colored candle and vestments for Gaudete Sunday to show that it is different from the other Sundays in Advent. The name comes from the first word of today’s antiphon. In Latin that word is gaudete which translates as Rejoice!
Today’s antiphon reads “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
Last week, Father Jim told us how Advent is at the darkest time of the year. We are waiting, looking forward to Christmas with Hope. Hope that things will be better. Hope that light will shine through the darkness. Hope that spring will come with longer days of warmth and sunshine.
For us, the winter nights are cold outside, but we are blessed to be warm inside our houses. It was quite different in the past. The long winter nights meant hours of cold unbearable shivering. It truly was a time of darkness and looking forward to warmer nights and more sunshine during the days. A time to encourage each other that the worst would soon be over and warmer times were coming.
Our lives are much like this. We live through the winters of pain and suffering; the times when cancer hits us or a family member, the times when we lose our job just before Christmas and we don’t know what to do to provide food and shelter let alone gifts for the children, the times when our marriage is breaking apart and we don’t know where to go for help, and the trouble just seems to on and on. How can we rejoice and look forward to better time ahead?
It’s interesting that the Gospel starts with John the Baptist, who is in prison, questioning who Jesus really is. This it the same John who said “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.” John then baptized Jesus.
The next day (after he had baptized Jesus) John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
John stated emphatically that Jesus is the Son of God; and yet here he is in prison wondering if he really is the Son of God. How could this happen? John the Baptist questioning what he said so emphatically three years ago? Times were a lot different now. John is in prison and doesn’t know what will happen to him. He is discouraged and begins to doubt.
Does this story sound familiar? It is easier for us to begin to question God’s existence when everything is going wrong in our lives. We think that we are all alone in our despair and desolation, when we doubt that God cares for us or maybe that he even exists.
John sent several of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
While Jesus did not say that he was the Messiah, he told John’s disciples to report back what was happening. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” In other words, tell John that there is hope; the sick and poor, the widow and orphan, the immigrant and stranger, the marginalized of society are being helped by Jesus.
When the disciples of John were leaving, Jesus to the crowds and said “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Jesus knew that John sent his disciples to ask because of his doubts. Here Jesus is telling us that if the greatest person born into the world could doubt, then we should rejoice because there is hope for us too.
This is a time of celebrating and parties. But for those who are suffering the loss of a loved one, for those struggling with cancer or other illnesses, for those who are lonely or depressed it is a difficult time instead of a time of celebrating. They may begin to doubt like John. We must help those around us in their time of sadness and despair.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” There is hope! We are not alone. The Lord is near!