“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4).
Last Sunday we got Mark’s portrait of John the Baptist. Today we get the evangelist John’s image, basically Mark’s again but with more details layered on. John the messenger is now John the witness to the light. He is not the light, only one who will introduce the light. John the Baptist is like a figure walking toward us as the sun rises behind him. He is so backlit we can barely recognize his features, for he is less important than the brilliant source approaching us behind him.
John’s shadow rolls over us. His message is an urgent warning: "Repent, get ready, change your heart and your ways so you can receive the light that is arriving behind me, like the dawn of a new creation."
We call this Gaudete Sunday, Latin for “rejoice,” because the promise is near, just 11 days from now. Something wonderful is about to happen that will change everything. Most of all, we will be changed. The former limits of existence, the certainty of death that so stunned the ancient philosophers and gave rise to religion as a desperate wager against mortality, is now revealed as the darkness before dawn, the silent interval before the real music begins. It is the offer of eternal life, filling the universe, then transcending it, the pulse of divinity in our DNA, a new destiny revealed by the One who is coming, the Light.
John, the greatest prophet the world ever saw, the greatest person ever born, yet he barely understood what he would again witness to on the banks of the Jordan. Later, sitting in a dank cell awaiting his own death, he would send messengers to ask Jesus if he was the promised one. Word came back that the blind were receiving back their sight, cripples were dancing, the poor were hearing good news and prisoners were being set free. The scriptures were being fulfilled, but not in the way many had expected. God’s light was pure mercy, not punishment.
This is why we rejoice on this Third Sunday of Advent. As we open our hearts to the Light, we will be able to see, hear, walk and know that life with God is our present reality and forever future.