In our Catholic liturgical calendar this is “Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Joy. We’re halfway through Advent and the vestment color is Rose, rather than purple, the color of penitence. So, we may see the celebrant wearing rose vestments.
This is supposed to be a joyful time of year but . . . some us don’t see things clearly, or can’t speak up for ourselves or are disabled. Some of us are afraid or disillusioned; confused or depressed; lonely or weak-kneed or just plain in need of an infusion of hope and joy, so . . .
today’s first reading from Isaiah 35:1-6,10 sums up the joyful, hopeful mood of this third Advent Sunday:
The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
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;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
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.
And in last Sunday’s gospel, we found John the Baptist preaching and baptizing along the Jordan River to great crowds of people. But in today’s gospel, however, we find him in prison.
Our Presbyterian scripture scholar William Barclay commented that John’s career ended in disaster. It wasn’t John’s habit to soften the truth. Herod Antipas had paid a visit to his brother in Rome and seduced his brother’s wife. He came home again, dismissed his own wife, and married the sister-in-law Herodias whom he lured away from her husband. Publicly and sternly, John rebuked Herod. Consequently, John was thrown into the dungeons of the fortress of Machaerus in the mountains near the Dead Sea.
For a man who lived in the wild open spaces with the sky above and the wind blowing through his hair, this was surely agony. So he may have had some doubts, and sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask . . . .
Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?
Jesus said to them in reply,
Go and tell John what you see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear [ . . .] and the poor have the good news preached to them.
John’s joy was to witness the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation and to play his assigned role within it. The way of fidelity to God and cooperation with God’s gift of himself to the world often leads through the dungeons of human injustice and cruelty . . . . John always acted with every fiber of his being oriented to serving a greater good than himself. John’s humility took the form of an ability to wait without end for God to act. Hence, he sent a message to Jesus to ask him what he should do.
And you probably know how John’s story ended: Herodias hated John, even though Herod wanted him alive. She kept looking for a way to get rid of him. The time finally came at a birthday party for the ruler at which her daughter danced so much to Herod’s delight that he promised her“half of his kingdom.” And Herodias got her daughter to demand Herod John’s head on a platter in front of his guests (Mt. 14) .
The world is filled with despots, even today. St. Paul exhorts us in the second reading today to be patient. (I suppose that means, even with the despots!) We should take heart in the wonderful message of Isaiah:
“Be strong, fear not!” Do you hear the echoes of Saint John Paul II who was always exhorting people all over the world not to be afraid!
Dear Heavenly Father,
the despots of our world will not win.
Your Son has already brought us the victory!
We are not afraid!
The hands of the feeble will become strong,
the knees of the weak will become firm.
The eyes of the blind will be opened!
The ears of the deaf will be cleared!
The tongues of the silenced will be loosened!
The desert and the parched land will exult!
The rivers will run fresh and clear again!
The forests will be free for wildlife again!
The oceans will be free for whales and fishes again!
Here is your God, he comes with divine recompense to save you.
We will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God!
This we ask as we ask all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Before you go, Here’s a song that follows the Scripture texts for today. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are all the of the Readings for today’s Mass, if you’d like those as well. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of Matthew – Volume 2 / Revised Edition The Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975