Third Sunday of Advent
The Third Sunday of Advent is referred to as “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” We rejoice because the coming, the advent, of our Savior, is near.
And so we have these uplifting words in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah (35:1-6a, 10) about the coming of the Messiah; “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom…Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication…Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”
Our hope and joy are in Jesus Christ. But I found myself wrestling with our Gospel reading (Matthew 11:2-11). In that reading, John the Baptist is in prison, and he sends his disciples to ask Jesus this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” I can see why John asked the question. If you remember the Gospel reading from last Sunday, John spoke harshly to the Pharisees and the Sadducees who came to the Jordan River. The Baptist spoke about the ax at the root of the trees and the Messiah with a winnowing fan in his hand to separate the chaff from the wheat. But Jesus hadn’t done any of that. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were still around. So was Herod, and John himself was still in prison. If Jesus was the Messiah, why were things still the same?
But Jesus responds that things were not the same: “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.” The Messiah’s coming would not be demonstrated by the destruction of the wicked, but by the uplifting of the afflicted.
But I wonder whether Jesus’ response was enough for John. After all, John would never leave prison, and would later be beheaded. Even if John did recognize the truth of Jesus’ answer, there are people who may wonder whether Jesus is the One. They may be asking themselves where they can find joy and hope. What is the source of joy for people in that situation?
The answer is still Jesus. It’s still Jesus because no matter what we may be going through, we know we are not alone. We know that God can lift us up, and that probably God has lifted us up before. We know we can leave it all at the foot of the Cross, and so we can have peace even in the midst of chaos, and joy even in the midst of pain.
And maybe a source of joy for people in distress could be ourselves in Jesus Christ. Could we help others see that they are loved? Could we help others hear an encouraging word? Could we not only proclaim good news to the poor, but listen to them as their voices have been muted for so long because of the world’s indifference?
Could the joy and hope we have in the birth of Jesus flow into seeking joy and hope for others?
May we rejoice in Jesus Christ and be ambassadors of hope in our world.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.