SMC 16th December 2018
Today is one of the two Sundays in the Christian year when we are “in the Pink” for today is Gaudete Sunday! Gaudete means REJOICE and it shows us the fullness of Joh the Baptist`s ministry as he points the Way to his second cousin Jesus of Nazareth. It is easy to overlook the importance of John the Baptist as we concentrate on the Saviour whose birth we shall celebrate in nine days time.
We need to remind ourselves of the importance in which John was held. All of the Gospel Writers see John as living out the prophecy of Second Isaiah (chapter 40 verse 3) when God speaks words of comfort to Israel at the end of its long exile: `A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God` John, this austere – even skinny – man dressed in an animal skin and surviving on locust beans and wild honey draws great crowds to listen to him preaching – preparing the Way. His wilderness location was near to Jericho – a fifteen mile walk from Jerusalem and folk were only too willing to go and listen to what he had to say. And what he says is nothing less than a call to repentance – to receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John is proclaiming the divine will of God the Father and, clearly, the people recognise the divine nature of the words he proclaims – so much so that many were of the opinion the JB was the promised Messiah that was longed for. But no, John points away from himself to make way for the real Messiah – Jesus. In this respect he is much like Mary, the Mother of Jesus who, likewise, points away from herself to her Son! We sometimes forget too that John, just six months older than Jesus, would, as a child, played with the child Jesus and they would have met up regularly in their teens to celebrate Passover as a family, Mary and Joseph and the Child Jesus would doubtless have stayed at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth at Ein Karem – just a few miles from Jerusalem. John was indeed an important figure of his time – and is still important for us – and he was even revered by Herod. Perhaps the greatest thing about JB is the way that he diminishes in great humility as the Christ grows in stature from the time of his Baptism for those three short years of ministry 90% of which took place in Galilee whilst John becomes rather obscure by his own design until, indeed, he is put to death on the orders of Herod. John`s mission has been completed.
We need to remind ourselves too of how John the Baptist, just six months in the womb of his mother St. Elizabeth, leapt for joy when Mary, newly pregnant with the Child Jesus went to visit her cousin Elizabeth to help in the last months of her pregnancy. John was indeed a sign of the salvation that was to come even before he was born!
John`s task and great role is `to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins` (Luke 1, 77). Also john makes plain that he is not the Messiah as we find in St. John`s Gospel chapter 3 vv. 28 & 30, “You yourselves are my witness that I said, `I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him…………He must increase, but I must decrease.`” The old promises of God to Abraham and the prophets are fulfilled in John and Jesus.
What then is John`s message ? It is repentance, Metanoia, literally turning back to God through re-awakening our conscience. Many would have asked John, `What must we do ?` He doesn`t suggest that they should stay in the wilderness doing penance or following a new series of rules but simply how we should behave in order to welcome the Messiah when he returns – it is this: `Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone who has something to eat must do the same.` Indeed, as St. James puts it: `Faith without action is nothing worth.` We have a duty to be aware of our situations so that we can be affective in bringing about economic and climate change that the environment is better for all humanity and resources are both conserved and shared. Final salvation must begin with our lives now and a seeking for the common good so that no one is left isolated since God`s desire for salvation is for everyone – in short we must be inclusive and not exclusive if we are to follow both John and Jesus.
Finally, we need to rejoice as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians (4: 4 – 7): `Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
As we move from this Sunday to next, when we shall concentrate on Our Lady St. Mary, we might take as our text for the week the response to today`s Psalm: `Cry out with joy and gladness, for in your midst is the Holy One of Israel`