The Mission of St John the Baptist
The Third Sunday of Advent 2014GaudeteSunday…rejoice…for God is coming…out of the darkness, out of the impossible comes the gift of God…his life given fully in his Son and thus given to us…
The gospel for this third Sunday of Advent once again centers on John the Baptist. This time the context is different and the focus of John’s gospel is on the question ‘who are you’? John’s response echoes the message of the Second Sunday: I am a voice…God’s words have become his words….a voice crying in the wilderness…‘Prepare the way for the Lord’…prepare, for the Lord is coming. Why, liturgically, would we have this gospel on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday…joy…focusing once more on John the Baptist? Jean Daniélou writes: “The Baptist’s message is addressed to a world held captive by sin and death, powerless to free itself, a world destined for death and incapable of justice, a world without hope. And his happy vocation is to proclaim that all the bonds will be broken and that love will overcome. This is already the message of grace” (Prayer, p. 37). Isn’t this a profoundly beautiful way to describe John’s mission, his ‘happy vocation’? Danielou continues: “John the Baptist is moved by divine joy, he bears witness to this joy, he is hidden in this joy; because the One who is coming, for whom John prepares, will give to his people the joy that the world cannot give, a joy beyond mere emotion. Just as John the Baptist prepares hearts for the heroic act of faith, he also prepares them for the joy that is almost too much to bear; he teaches the hearts accustomed to despair to open themselves to the happiness God has given” (p.38). To tease out what Daniélou is saying in this text we see John the Baptist’s mission as two-fold: preparing hearts (our hearts) for ‘the heroic act of faith’ and preparing them also for joy…I would like to suggest that these two go hand in hand: acts of faith and joy….
During these Advent days what could be a ‘heroic act of faith’? Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit, says ‘yes’ to the angel’s message…she says ‘yes’ to something so new and so unknown in terms of where her ‘yes’ would lead her…in her ‘yes’ she takes a leap of faith for she does not know the full implication of her commitment: ‘Let it be done to me according to your word.’…Mary’s ‘yes’ is something she will grow into…live into. And her joy: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord…my spirit rejoices in God my savior.’ I am wondering: Could a heroic act of faith be for us a willingness to step outside of some habitual pattern, a pattern we are so accustomed to that we cannot imagine it being different? And still we are to ‘imagine’ for this is the time…God’s time…when the ‘impossible does become possible’. Let us then indeed imagine: imagine my being overshadowed by the Spirit…my heart so accustomed to despair and doubt suddenly ready to receive the joy that comes with God’s new gesture of love touching ‘us entirely, spirit, soul and body’ (1 Thess 5:23). Could we allow John’s voice to comfort us in our wilderness…this prophet of God whose ‘happy vocation’ is to remind us and assure us that salvation is coming, that God is to become more of our lives, to occupy more of our heart, to breathe his freedom and love in and through our lives each day.
At our vigil reading we heard Karl Rahner pose the question: “Is this joy, this Advent joy so difficult? Is resignation and hidden despair really easier?” (The Key of Faith, Adolf Adam, p.15). Indeed we do need John the Baptist for this Gaudete Sunday. A heroic act of faith is to let our ‘yes’ be an anchor in these final days of Advent: we can make Mary’s words our own: ‘Let it be done to me according to your word’ for the Christ of God is to be born again in our hearts, in our very human, imperfect lives. And this birth will change us…gracing us with a little more hope, a little more love, a little more mercy, a little more joy…a quiet joy that brings peace and rest to the soul.
God needs each one of us to incarnate his life and love. And John the Baptist is with us to remind us that our very lives are to be vessels of the Spirit, of Christ’s new life. John is a voice and a presence, to help prepare our hearts to receive this birth, this gift of Divine life and to joyfully proclaim it with our lives.
Listen to Sr Kathy's talk here