3rd Sunday Of Advent
Tony van Vuuren.
Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday; liturgically a day of Rejoicing in the middle of Advent. Yet it is also the day that South Africa mourns as Madiba is buried and the gospel story tells us of John the Baptist languishing in a damp, dark and depressive prison cell where the news of Jesus’ preaching reaches him. He is baffled by what he hears. Jesus does not meet his expectations. John had predicted a Messiah who would impose himself with the terrible force of the judgement of God, saving those who accepted baptism and condemning those who rejected it. The Jesus he now hears about is not the leader he had anticipated.
So who is this man?
To resolve his doubts, he sends a couple of his own disciples to Jesus who confront him with the question: ‘Are you the one who is to come?’
Jesus does not take offence at John’s weakening faith in him; but he does not give him a direct answer. He responds by talking about his healing work, his service of the sick, poor and unfortunate people whom he finds in the villages of Galilee, without resources or hope for a better life: ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’ Jesus knows that his answer may disappoint those, who like John, dream of a powerful, vengeful Messiah.
Jesus even adds a very gentle ‘swipe’ at John when he says:
‘And happy is the man who does not lose faith in me!’
On the other hand, Jesus shows loudly and clearly that he has not lost any faith in John, is not the least disillusioned with John. In fact, he pays him the highest tribute: ‘I tell you … of all the children born of women, no greater than John the Baptist has ever been seen.’
John is the last and the greatest of the OT prophets. Over and over again he speaks the truth of God clearly and eloquently, speaks it without fear or favour. And he has paid the price for doing so by being thrown into prison where any day now the command will come from the king: ‘Off with his head!’
To know Jesus, it is best to see who he goes to and what he loves to do. To understand clearly his identity, it is not enough to acknowledge theoretically that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. One must also identify with his way of being the Messiah, which is nothing less than to relieve suffering, to heal lives, and to open a horizon of hope for the poor; and that means all of us. We are all poor in one way or another! Let us remember those who lack the basic necessities of life. Let us remember those who are deeply saddened by circumstances they cannot change. Let us remember those among us who have a poverty of spirit because of whatever the circumstances of their lives
In the light of today’s gospel message, where do we all stand in regard to our faith and hope in Jesus? One hears so often of friends and family members dropping out of active membership in the parish community for whatever reason. Hopefully they will join us for the Christmas services, but after that they’ll go their own way again. Life without Christ can be a pretty empty, lonely, superficial, unsatisfactory, unfulfilled, even bitter kind of life. Perhaps right now our own faith in Christ is under some strain. Perhaps life in the community here at St Michael’s has not been as rewarding and helpful as we had hoped. Perhaps someone has let us down, disappointed us. Perhaps our prayers seem to have gone unanswered.
Whatever the reason, let’s remember that Jesus is the reason for the season, this season of Advent & Christmas, this season of hope!
We are an Advent people who live in hope and trust in God’s promises. As followers of Jesus we are also a continuation of His presence in the world. What He said about Himself and His ministry of healing to the blind, lame, lepers etc; is now up to us to continue. The Advent scriptures ask us to live the mystery of Christ in our time.
It is clear from Jesus’ response to John that he did not withdraw from engagement with the world and live in a cave in the desert as John did; nor was He going to form a military band of rebels to overthrow the Roman occupiers.
What He did do; was confront the world’s evils through healing and forgiveness. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when the people of Galilee came into contact with Christ.
Now we, His Church, are to “go and tell” what we have seen and heard in Christ.
We do this by: reaching out by example to friends and family who have turned away from Christ; by giving sight to those who cannot see; by enabling the physical and emotionally crippled; communicating with those who are disenfranchised by church and society; finding ways to give value to human life and in so doing become, like Jesus, good news to the poor and oppressed.
In our Holy Communion with him today, let us commit ourselves to not only saying but also meaning that prayer we will share: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.’
Healed enough to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk!
Reflecting on the significance of lighting the pink candle of joy on this Gaudete Sunday we probably think of the more secular definition of joy which may be simply an intense form of happiness; religious joy however is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God and our relationship with Him. The ultimate response to the good news is joy, one that is lasting and can endure even in the midst of difficulties. But this does not mean that Christians are always happy. Sadness is a natural response to pain, suffering and tragedy in life. It is human, natural and even, in a way, desirable: sadness in response to a tragic event shows that one is emotionally alive. If we were not sad from time to time, we would be something less than human.
I share with you this extract from an article by Brian Purfield where he quotes one of the international journalists here to cover Madiba’s funeral; Fergal Keane, who writes that his final enduring memory of Nelson Mandela is one of joy. On the night of 2 May 1994 the ANC had won a comprehensive victory. On a stage, surrounded by his closest advisors, Nelson Mandela did the Madiba shuffle and waved to the crowd. He smiled the open, generous smile of a man who had lived to see his dream.
On this Gaudete Sunday, the reading from James reminds us to ‘be patient…until the coming of the Lord.’ When John hears of the healing work of Jesus among the sick, the poor and the lame, he surely knows that the One he has been waiting patiently for all his life has come. Like Isaiah, he had longed to ‘see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.’ I would like to think that sitting in his dark cell John also smiled the open, generous smile of a man who had lived to see his dream come true.
Ref: Brian Purfield.