First Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-6A, 10; Psalm 146, Response: Lord, come and save us.; Second Reading: James 5: 7-10
Gospel: Matthew 11: 2-11
Today, Dec. 15, is the Third Sunday of Advent traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete comes from this Sunday’s introit, “Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete” (Philippians 4: 4) or “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”
Today we also light the rose or pink-colored candle of the Advent wreath and the priest wears the same color vestments for the Mass. This is one of two Masses where it’s done in the year. The other is Laetare Sunday in Lent.
These two Sundays highlight two important blessings of the Christian faith. One is the discipline of prayer, reflection and penance. Two is the gift of joy. These are synthesized in the proclamation: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
We see it in our readings and the psalm, the promise of the joy to come, the assurance of God’s fidelity and reliability, and the exhortation to patience and perseverance.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist, though not physically present, is the center of our reflections. Imprisoned and in his final days, he sent his disciples to ask the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11: 3)
It is a question of a man who has dedicated himself to this moment to know “the one who is to come.” Everything in his life was oriented toward and devoted to this. He was at the threshold of knowing that everything in his life has meaning and his mission is accomplished.
We can frame John the Baptist’s journey—from his acknowledging Christ as the Lamb of God to this question of confirmation. Christ’s response completes the picture.
“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. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11: 4-6)
Christ tells John that the Kingdom of God is at hand and, as the readings the past days of Advent describe, it is a kingdom of peace, unity and joy.
To a certain extent, these images contrast with John the Baptist’s prescription for the means to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom. His extreme practices of penance, his ascetical way of life, and his powerful call to repentance may seem contradictory to the Kingdom Christ describes in his response.
This is the Christian paradox. The disciplines prescribed by John the Baptist lead to freedom from self—the complete self-emptying that allows us to welcome Christ.
For John the Baptist, this meant giving way to the Messiah of compassion, forgiveness, mercy and love.
This is the Christian joy, the joy of Advent, the joy of Christmas, the joy of Lent and the Cross, the joy of Easter.
It is the joy of knowing everything we did, everything we dedicated our life to—even the mistakes and failures have meaning because they lead us to Christ.
Start of Simbang Gabi
In the coming days, we also begin the novena of Masses for Christmas, the Simbang Gabi where the figures of John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother will be the two main images that will prepare us for Christmas.
Both were totally given to their mission, John the Baptist to announce the presence of Christ, and the Blessed Mother the main channel through which Christ’s mission is to be fulfilled: to be God-with-us and make possible our sharing in his Cross and Resurrection.
As Zechariah describes his son John: “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1: 76-79)
And as the Blessed Mother proclaims: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1: 46-47)