Detail from "Saint John the Baptist Pointing to Christ" by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1655)
Is 35:1-6a, 10
Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
First, awaken. Then repent. Now rejoice.
have been the central themes during these three Sundays of Advent. On
the first Sunday, we heard Jesus exhort the disciples, “Therefore, stay
awake!” Last Sunday we heard John the Baptist, the voice in the
wilderness, preaching, “Repent!”
Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin word for “rejoice”) we hear of joy,
exultation, glory, and gladness. “Be strong,” declared the prophet
Isaiah, “fear not!” Looking to the future, anticipating a time of peace
and abundance, he gave several reasons for his call to joy. First, there
is the “glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” Recognizing God’s
existence and acknowledging his overwhelming beauty and power is
foundational to any real joy; without this knowledge, joy is fleeting.
Then there is God’s gift of salvation: “Here is your God, he comes with
vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” God is not
just magnificent, he is magnanimous; he is not only great, he is giving.
Finally, this gift of salvation is cause for everlasting joy for it
means that we are meant to enter Zion, to come into his presence with
thanksgivingfor all of eternity.
no joy can be found if we are not awake; those who slumber cannot sing.
And there is no joy for the sinner, for those who refuse to repent
cannot be reborn or renewed. “The power of rejoicing is always a fair
test of a man’s moral condition,” observed Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “No
man can be happy on the outside who is already unhappy on the inside. …
As sorrow is attendant on sin, so joy is the companion of holiness.”
reading from James anticipates one of the serious challenges for
everyone who has awoken and repented and now waits: impatience. “Be
patient, brothers and sisters,” writes James, who was addressing
Christians dispersed outside of Palestine (cf. Jas. 1:1), “until the
coming of the Lord.” He is emphatic on this point: “You too must be
patient.” Impatience has a way of eating at our resolve, our hope, our
sense of perspective. When impatience takes over, we are tempted to
think we will be better off doing things our ways, in our time, and
according to our wisdom. We begin to complain and our resolve wilts.
Impatience let loose will eventually attack our faith and destroy our
Teresa of Avila warned of this. “Hope, O my soul, hope”, she wrote.
“You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything
passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is
certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the
more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God,
and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness
and rapture that can never end” (CCC, 1821).
what of John the Baptist? Did he give into impatience? Today’s Gospel
seems, at first blush, to suggest so. After all, the imprisoned prophet
sent his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come?”
But John, who never wavered in delivering his message or standing his
ground, did this for the benefit of others. “John asks this not because
he is ignorant,” explained St. Jerome, “but to guide other who are
ignorant and say to them, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the
sins of the world!’” They were attached to John, but they needed to be
transformed by Christ. In sending them to Jesus, John was shaking them
the Baptist was a prophet“and more than a prophet”but he was not the
Savior. He announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, but he was
not the King. John’s greatness came from his faithful, joyful
proclamation of the greatness of the Lord. Like him, we are called to
rejoice in the glory, the gift, and the goodness of God.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the December 12, 2010, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)