(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. It is good to hear the Word of God.)
The third Sunday of Advent is called "Gaudete Sunday." Gaudete means "Rejoice!" The pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit because pink is a sign of joy. We rejoice because the Lord is near. Certainly the feast of Christmas is getting nearer, but we also know that the Lord is already with us. Perhaps we rejoice because we are drawing nearer to him.
We hear the call to rejoice in both the first and second readings for this Sunday. In the Gospel, though, the call to rejoice is not as obvious. Perhaps we can find it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the second Sunday in a row that we hear about John the Baptist. The Gospel writer is quick to tell us that John is not the One for whom we are waiting. John the Baptist is merely a witness. He has a relationship with the Lord and he is sharing that experience. Drawing near to him would be like shaking hands with someone who has met the Pope. Not at all the same as meeting the Pope yourself, but at least we would be able to hear about what that encounter is like.
John the Baptist is a strange person. People are not sure what to think of him. They come to question him--to find out what he is all about. Listen to how John the Baptist's response is described when he is asked, “Who are you?”
He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”
That is an unusual sentence, isn't it? He doesn't answer the question directly, but just says what he is not. But it is the first part of the sentence that is really, I think.
He does not deny it.
Isn't that saying the same thing three times?
The Greek word that is used for "confess" means to publicly declare the truth. John the Baptist declares the truth (he is not the Messiah); he does not say it is not true; he declares the truth.
We know that when there is repetition in the Bible it tells us to pay attention. Something important is being communicated. What are we being told about John the Baptist? I think we can safely say that he tells the truth ;) But the fact that we are told this three times perhaps tells us something about his person. He is a person of truth. Nothing pretend. Totally honest.
His honest answer, or non-answer, draws the people closer. They are not used to someone who is so very truthful. Now they really want to know who he is.
Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.
When the people ask, "What do you say about yourself," John the Baptist has an answer. He knows that he is the person Isaiah speaks of in the scriptures. He knows who he is.
He can confess and not deny but confess because he knows who he is. He can declare the truth publicly because he knows who he is. And the truth that John the Baptist declares is:
Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
Jesus is right there with them. He is among the people. The Lord is so very near. And John the Baptist knows it.
This, then, is the reason to rejoice, isn't it? What God does in the Gospel, God does now--because God never changes. If Jesus is among the people in the Gospel, Jesus is among us.
The Lord is so very near.
Do we know it?
If someone asked us, "What do you say about yourself?" what would we say? Would we confess, and not deny, but confess that we know the Lord is near? Do we know who we are? The person we are when we pray, is it the same person we are in public? Do we hide the fact that we have a relationship with the Lord?
If we are that honest,
if we are who we are before all,
we will be strange people.
Like John the Baptist.