Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 35:1-6a, 10 / Ps 146 / Jas 5:7-10 / Mt 11:2-11
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. It is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is taken from the first word of our entrance antiphon. Because we had a beautiful opening hymn, Father didn’t say the entrance antiphon, but I’m going to say it to you now. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” Isn’t that a beautiful entrance antiphon? So, Gaudete – rejoice!
Some seven hundred and fifty years before Jesus’ ministry, Israel was in captivity. They were exiled from their precious homeland and far distant from their beloved holy temple. Generation after generation after generation of families had lived this existence, this exile existence in Babylon. It was there that the great prophet Isaiah spoke to the people, telling them that change was coming. He had a beautiful vision of the people being reunited with their place, a new Jerusalem to be rebuilt and reinhabited.
“Rejoice,” he writes, “rejoice with joyful song.” The first line we heard from Isaiah today says, “The dry, parched desert will exult,” which also means rejoice. He will come to save you, the weak will be strong, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will rise. Those whom the Lord had ransomed will return and enter Jerusalem, singing and crowned with everlasting joy. Rejoice!
As with most prophets, Isaiah’s message in this prophecy has more than one meaning. The first meaning is that, yes, the Jews will be released from exile. Yes, they will be allowed to return to Judah. Yes, they will be allowed to rebuild the temple and to resume their religious practices. All these things, because of a new ruler, Cyrus the Great, who conquers Babylon two hundred years after Isaiah made that prophecy.
But Isaiah’s message has a different meaning as well. It foreshadows a future Savior even further than those two hundred years, whose reign is forever; his message is of true everlasting joy.
So, let’s fast forward to what I proclaimed in Matthew’s gospel and in Jesus’ time, where Jesus affirms John the Baptist and confirms that He himself is the Anointed One, fulfilling the prophecy. Now how does He do that?
We hear that in prison, John has heard about what Jesus is doing and what is happening in the world around him while he is in prison. And so, he sends his two followers to go and talk to Jesus and to ask Him a question: Is he the one to come, or should we be waiting for somebody else?
Jesus does not give a simple, straightforward answer; He doesn’t say, “Yes. Next question. What else you got?” He doesn’t give a simple answer, and He also doesn’t declare openly, “Yes, I am the Messiah.” He doesn’t do that either. What does he do? He proclaims the kingdom. He proclaims the Kingdom of Heaven with this prophecy. And just like John the Baptist proclaimed, he says, “Go and tell John what you see and hear, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers cleaned, the deaf hear, the dead rise.” Does that sound familiar? We just heard that in Isaiah.
Through His actions, through what He has done and is doing, His works of love and mercy, He is fulfilling that well-known prophecy that we just heard from Isaiah, written seven hundred and fifty years before. He’s also saying that that prophecy wasn’t pointing toward violent overthrow of civil government. It was pointing to Jesus. And you can trust this because of His work of love and mercy, which were spoken of by Isaiah so many years before.
And also, “Messenger, when you go back with this message that I’m giving you from Isaiah’s prophecy, you are also saying John, you can believe in yourself, because you too are fulfilling that prophecy.” Amazing! As the messengers are leaving and are going to return to John the Baptist with what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen, Jesus honors their master, saying that he is the awaited messenger. That’s affirming. He is the one foretold by Isaiah – remember the voice the one who cried out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord? That’s the one!
And because of this, he is the greatest prophet of all. And yet, the least of the Kingdom of Heaven is even greater than he. That’s a curious statement right there at the end; it kind of threw me as I was reading it. I think I know a little bit about what that means. Each of us Christians, we followers of Jesus, we believers are more blessed than John, because we get to live in this age brought on by Jesus. We are blessed to live on this side of the resurrection and so we can be part of His mystical body, a part of His community of believers, and truly be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and we get to be a part of that kingdom. How awesome is that?
Gaudete! Hallelujah! Rejoice! Amen.