This 3rd Sunday of Advent is often called Gaudete Sunday, (gaudete is a Latin word for “rejoice”). We rejoice because the coming of Our Savior is near. Most
of us grow a little impatient at this time of year with all the hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas. The key here is to be patient because we know that we will soon rejoice in celebrating His birth. Today’s readings show that waiting is not without its value. St. James, in a typically down-to- earth way, draws an example from nature. Farmers are almost by definition patient individuals; they know that everything takes time. You don’t plant a seed into the ground today and expect the appearance of precious fruit tomorrow; the chopping of a tree may take hours, but the growth of a tree takes years. It’s a law that applies to all growth, especially growth in friendship, including our own growth in friendship with God.
Christian waiting is an active rather than a passive affair. Although we place all our trust in God, we need to act as though everything depends on us. Our readings suggest that there are advantages in this active waiting. They teach us our limitations, and so make us alive to our need of God. Isaiah, speaking to his people in the grim days of exile, assures them that a time is coming when the desert will be transformed into a carpet of flowers and when human disabilities will be healed. While waiting, we must trust in God. Even the Gospel suggests that when our waiting includes a genuine openness to God’s designs, we often find that our God is a God of surprises.
St. John the Baptist is a prominent figure in the Advent Gospel readings. The Gospels tell us that he was a cousin of Jesus. He spent his life waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah. He continued, even when languishing in Herod’s dark prison. He had always imagined the Messiah would be mighty, and would pass fierce judgement on his enemies.
As described in Gospel passages, John comes across as an odd fellow (but so were all the prophets in their own unique way). He was the last as well as the greatest of all the prophets. John wandered about the desert preaching. He wore camel’s hair for a tunic and lived on a steady diet of locusts. He does seem to be a rather odd cousin for Jesus to have (but I think all of us can admit to having a fair share of odd cousins).
In some ways, Jesus was quite different. So, you can sense the puzzlement in John’s voice as he tells his friends to go and ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we wait for someone else?” It’s as though he is wondering whether his whole life has been in vain.
Yet even now John seems to preserve a spirit of openness, a readiness to trust in God. His reward is, indeed, a surprise. His friends bring back startling news: those who are deaf hear; those who are blind see; sick people are healed; the Good News is proclaimed to the poor. It’s the fulfilment of Isaiah’s words. They’ve witnessed God’s boundless love at work in Jesus. If He is not the Messiah, then no one ever could be.
So, John’s waiting hadn’t been in vain. But what makes him most odd was the message that he came to bring: repent of your sins, turn away from doing wrong. That message got him in trouble when he challenged Herod for his sinful life; and, in response, Herod had him arrested and thrown into prison. But, Mark’s Gospel also tells us that Herod was perplexed by John. Apparently Herod also found him to be an odd fellow. Maybe he seemed so odd because of his message, because he sought the Truth. He seemed odd in the eyes of the world that had lost sight of what was true. He seemed odd to a world that lost sight of what was good. He seemed odd to a world that was preoccupied with sin, that was blinded by sin. It was to this world that he came preaching that God would come to save His people. John the Baptist became the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah that said, “behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; He will prepare the way before you.”
Remember that the beginning of the Gospel today opens with John the Baptist in prison. That image of John held captive in prison. That’s a perfect image for this Advent season for all of us. Just as John was sitting in prison, so, too, was the whole human race, waiting for the Savior, was waiting in bondage, bound, chained by sin, because that’s precisely what sin does: it binds us, it chains us, holds us captive and restricts our freedom. Sin takes away our freedom to seek God and do what is good. So long as there is sin in our lives, we are bound by it and we are not truly free. Yet, we’re not doomed to perpetual bondage, for we have a way out. We have a way to be released from our captivity to sin.
Seeking Jesus in the Sacrament of Penance can release us from the bondage of sin. Seeking His mercy by confessing our sins can break our chains. The Lord came to heal us, body and soul. He heals our soul when we ask for his mercy. He comes to feed us with the joy of His loving presence in the Eucharist. In these remaining days before the Lord comes at Christmas, allow Him to heal you of sin, allow Him to free you from what binds and burdens you, so that when He does come at Christmas, you can welcome Him with the peace and joy that only freedom can bring.