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 in rose vestments.
This is supposed to be a joyful time of year but . . . some us are blind to the reality of their lives or what’s really happening in the world around them, 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.
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, we find him in prison.
Our Presbyterian scripture scholar William Barclay commented that John’s career ended –I would say– in desolation and loneliness. 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 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. He 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 leads through dungeons of human injustice and cruelty . . . . John was always acting as one whose every fiber is 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.
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 the Baptist. The time finally came at a birthday party for the ruler at which her daughter Salome danced for Herod in which he promised “half of his kingdom” to her. Herodias got Salome to demand Herod in front of his guests to ask for John’s head on a platter (Mt. 14)
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, my meager efforts when I do serve.
You inspire me, John, 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 for your service-unto-death;
I ask for–you, my Readers, and for me–the grace, the strength and the courage to also serve our Lord unto the end of our days. Amen.
Before you go, here’s a selection from Handel’s Messiah by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for your listening pleasure. 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
I would also add a note about the image of the Christmas cactus shown above. I set that up in the Florida room of friends many years ago. (I hope they’ll tell me if it’s still blooming so many years hence!)