Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday.
”Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John the Baptist in today’s gospel, Matthew 11:2-11.
“You know he’s saying something proper and sensible.” The commentator Jo Phillips, of Gareth Southgate as he comforted Harry Kane after missing a vital penalty in the English football team’s World Cup quarter final match.
A while ago, before I owned a sat nav, I was driving along country lanes in Norfolk and got completely lost. Fortunately, I saw an elderly chap at a junction and asked him how to get to my destination. “Well now,” he said in a mellow country burr as he scratched his chin, “If I were ‘ee, I wouldn’t be startin’ from ‘ere!”
But I had to start from there because there I was! His words came to mind with today’s reading where John the Baptist, having had people flock to hear him in last week’s gospel, is now languishing in prison. There he was in Herod’s dungeon, having been jailed for criticising him for marrying his brother’s wife – John’s caught in a protracted situation which will lead to his beheading. Rather than asking Jesus for help, John seeks clarification from the darkness of his cell – and he doesn’t just ponder. John takes action and sends his disciples to Jesus to question him.
However, Jesus does not directly answer John – he simply replies that his disciples must relate to him what they hear and see. The blind, the lame, lepers and the deaf are being healed, the dead are being raised and the poor are receiving good news. These are signs of God’s kingdom being fulfilled but Jesus does not declare it openly and it could also antagonise the insecure King Herod further. John had called for repentance and spoke of the axe cutting down dead wood and fire to come whereas Jesus’ words are of mercy, healing and good news. The messages of the two men are very different as Jesus speaks of John’s greatness but declares that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater. The work of the messenger is done but the waiting goes on as Jesus continues his journey towards his own imprisonment and a terrible death – but, also, resurrection and fresh hope.
Today is also called Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, because of the antiphon for the day:“Rejoice in the Lord alway and, again, I say rejoice!” ( Philippians 4:4) The darkness is lifting as the light of Christmas draws nearer – Advent is about hope and joy to come as well as the present reality. Today, many people are asking searching questions in light of the huge challenges currently being faced, just as difficult questions are already being asked about the future of Gareth Southgate who showed such grace and compassion as he tried to comfort Harry Kane. At times of great pressure, do we also show the same grace and compassion – would proper, sensible words be on our lips?
John endured disappointment and pressure in his cell but continued to ask probing and reflective questions. In finding courage to do the same in our own time, Advent reminds us that we must wait hopefully and actively rather than passively, taking action to make a difference as did John. May his example enable us not only to continue to ask questions and take action but to see more clearly how and where the Kingdom is already being fulfilled so that we can continue joyfully to await its coming – no matter where we’re starting from.
With my prayers; pob bendith,