Third Sunday of Advent
December 15, 2019—Year A
Readings: Is 35:1-6A, 10 / Ps 146 / Jas 5:7-10 / Mt 11:2-11
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Advent is a time of preparation, when we prepare for the coming of the Lord. For the past two weeks the focus of the readings has been on preparing ourselves for Jesus’ second coming. The fourth Sunday has readings about the Nativity. This Sunday is different. It is a kind of check in the middle of the season.
Today is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is translated as Rejoice and it comes from the entrance antiphon for today which states: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say Rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” So today is a little more celebratory.
I’ve heard a lot of people call Advent “Christmas Lent.” True there is an element of penance, but it isn’t exactly like Lent. It is more about anxious anticipation about Jesus’ second coming and anxious expectation for His first coming. Today we rejoice in that.
Today’s gospel is about John the Baptist. As background, remember that John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus. We often say cousin, but that isn’t exactly how it was in the time of John the Baptist; so “relative” is more correct. He was born to a couple who were elderly and childless. Being childless at that time was a difficulty, because your children would take care of you in your old age. John, from his birth, was special; remember the story of the Visitation. Clearly, from the beginning John was set apart.
Jesus has high praise for John. He speaks about him out in the desert, proclaiming repentance. Father Benoit explained last week that repentance was turning away from sin. It was an actual turning. John the Baptist’s message was: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He even says he isn’t worthy to “carry His sandals.” In other words, save your praise for the One to come.
Jesus has a wonderful line about John: “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist,” but then He goes on to say: “The least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” We just heard about how great John the Baptist was. In fact, later in this gospel, Jesus flat out says that John is Elijah returned! So what do we make of this statement about some being greater than John? Some people think it means the people who have made it to heaven, which is true in a sense, since those people have seen the Lord, but that’s not exactly what that line means.
The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t the second coming of Jesus; the Kingdom of Heaven has already started. Jesus’ second coming is the fulfillment of it, but the Kingdom has already come. So in a very real sense, all of us are already in the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel better than John the Baptist, and of my own merit I am not. So what exactly is Jesus telling us, what do we make of it?
Interestingly enough, we are going to do something during Mass related to this statement. We have purchased some new ciboria. Nice stackable ones, which are more compact and make better use of space. In just a few minutes, we are going to bless them, because right now they are just bowls. The ciboria are like us in a way. They’re pretty, but they are just bowls. But in a minute with Father Sal and the congregation here, they will become something else. They will be blessed and become worthy to hold the body of Jesus Christ.
The same thing happened to us when we were baptized. Through the power and merit of Jesus Christ and through the action of the Holy Spirit, we were changed, not through our own actions or merit but through the gracious gift of grace. Through that action of the Holy Spirit we became worthy vessels – tabernacles – of the body of Christ. And thus we are greater than John the Baptist.