In our Catholic liturgical calendar this is “Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Joy. We’re more than half way through Advent and the vestment color is Rose, rather than purple, the color of penitence. So, we see the celebrant in 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 ~ disillusioned ~ confused ~ depressed ~ lonely ~ weak-kneed and in need of a good old-fashioned infusion of hope and joy, and so . . .
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4: 4-7)
In our Gospel today we hear again about John the Baptist. The Jews were sure that God favored their nation; that God would judge other nations by one standard but the Jews by another. They felt they were safe from judgment simply because they were Jewish. John told them otherwise: that life, not their heritage was God’s standard of judgment, according to Scripture scholar William Barclay.
Barclay tells us that there are three outstanding things about John the Baptist’s message.
(1) He demanded that people should share with one another. It was a social gospel that declared that God would not be pleased if someone had too much while others had too little.
(2) He told people not to leave their jobs, but to work out their salvation by doing those jobs as they should be done. Let the tax collector be a good tax collector and a soldier be a good soldier.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Lk 3:10-15)
In other words, when people came to the Baptist and asked, “What should we do?” he gave them the most reasonable, commonsense reply. He says, in effect, “ Live reality. God is asking you to be faithful to the ordinary circumstances of your life. He will make himself evident there.
And with that advice, “ the people were filled with expectation, asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” All because John made them attentive to their own hearts in a way that neglected nothing of their humanity. They can exult with their own heart because they can now trust that the desires of their heart are not illusions. They have no anxiety for the Lord is near as the next moment and whatever it brings. (Magnificat liturgical magazine, December, 2018, ed.)
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
(3) (Barclay) John was quite sure that he himself was only the forerunner. The King was still to come and with him would come judgment. The winnowing fan was a great flat wooden shovel; with it the grain was tossed into the air, the heavy grain would fall to the ground, but the chaff would be blown away. And just as the chaff was separated from the wheat so the King would separate the good and the bad.
Thus, John painted a picture of judgment and it could be faced with confidence by those who had looked after their neighbor’s needs and faithfully done their day’s work. (Barclay / Luke pp.44.2)
John was simply the sign-post, pointing the way toward Christ. He was faithful even unto imprisonment and death and content to simply be the messenger.
My spiritual director some time ago suggested I pray to John the Baptist, and so I do so now . . .
O John, how lovingly you served your Lord.
I am dumbfounded at my own lack of humility,
my refusal to serve, the meager way I have served him.
You inspire me, even in my later years to wait upon my God to act in my life,
to wait for him to do new things.
Thank you, John, for your service-unto-death;
I ask for the grace, the strength and the courage to also serve my Lord unto the end of my days.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. Amen.
And before you go, here is a 1970-ish John the Baptist and company from Godspell singing a spirited Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord! Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here