Third Sunday of Advent Gospel Reflection: John 1:6-8,19-28 By Fr. Alcuin Hurl, FHS
Happy Gaudete Sunday! Gaudete is plural imperative that literally means “ya’ll rejoice” (if you are from Texas) or “yinz rejoice” (if you are from Pittsburgh). What reason do we have to rejoice on this third Sunday of Advent? Gaudete is the first word in the entrance antiphon taken from Philipians 4:4-5: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near.” St. Paul is writing to a Church in a Roman Colony that has suffered some of the most grievous persecutions and imprisonments in the early Church. This church is hurting and sorrowful possibly ready to give up and yet he surprises them in their liturgy where the letter was first read with a message of joy. This is why he needs to repeat: “again I say rejoice.” This is like someone coming up to you after a great tragedy in your life and saying “be glad, be joyful be delighted!”
Paul’s reason for rejoicing is because as he says “the Lord is near.” So we too through an act of hope can look to the near coming of Jesus Christ both at Christmas and in the final judgement and be filled with divine joy despite our sorrows. The rose candle that we light today in the Advent wreath helps us commit to this act of faith. By rejoicing in the midst of pain and tragedy we are not putting on rose colored glasses and denying reality but we are recognizing the bigger reality of the coming of Jesus that dwarfs our present sorrows. Rejoicing is a function of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and letting his joy swallow up our pain in the way that his cross swallows up our sin and death.
In the Gospel this week we again look to John the Baptist and The Gospel of John’s presentation of him. John the Theologian, as they call him in the Eastern Church, says “This is the testimony of John.” Witness or martyria in Greek is John’s word for evangelizing. The witness means a personal knowledge or the passing on of a personal experience that one is willing to go to prison and die for. To truly evangelize is to be a martyr and indeed risk martyrdom. By the time John writes the last Gospel there are already many Christian martyrs including his older brother James who was beheaded in Jerusalem. So evangelization for the early Christians quickly turned into witness when they had to give their lives for the message.
This term witness also points to the personal encounter with Jesus that John the theologian is focused on in his Gospel. It is a personal intimate knowledge that the Christians preach. His Gospel focuses on a series of personal encounters with Peter and Andrew and Nicodemus and the woman at the well etc. All of these people encounter Jesus as their personal Savior. John the Baptist is indeed the first public witness who encounters Jesus as the Lamb of God who is eventually imprisoned and beheaded for his witnessing to this personal encounter.
John’s encounter with Jesus lead to him giving up his life. Was his witness worth it? This is a question we all have to ask ourselves. Is encountering the truth of Jesus worth the inevitable persecution and rejection it will bring? Do we prefer the light of ignorance? Praying before the rose candle will help us rejoice and give us courage to witness to our personal encounter with Jesus the King.
Fr. Patrick McGuire