Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gaudete Sunday: Rejoicing Behind Bars

John the Baptist in Prison
The Third Sunday of Advent is called "Gaudete Sunday" or "Rejoice Sunday." At the very moment that the Church's liturgy is commanding us to "rejoice," the gospel takes us to a darkened cell, located beneath the palace of King Herod.  There sits John the Baptist.  It is only a matter of time before the executioner begins sharpening his axe.  Perhaps John can hear the sounds of one of Herod's parties going on upstairs.  In the midst of all of this revelry and moral decay, John the Baptist knows that his time is coming to an end.  He is indeed decreasing.  In fact, he is decreasing to the point of soon losing his life.  

There doesn't seem too much for John to "rejoice" over at this particular moment in his life.  This is where the Church's Liturgy is always so surprisingly beautiful.  There is nothing worse than being told to "have a good time" when you feel lousy.  So often, those who are sitting in our churches--especially around Christmas--might not feel all that great.  Some are ill.  Some are unemployed.  Some are mourning the loss of loved ones or are preparing for the death of a loved one.  The memories of past joys perhaps cause sadness.  The memories of past injuries perhaps cause hurt.  

Perhaps many people sitting in our churches on "Rejoice Sunday" feel a bit like John the Baptist.  They can hear the noise of the party going on, but they are not part of it.  They are down below, imprisoned by the sorrows of life, imprisoned by the cruelties of life, imprisoned by the walls of illness or memory.

This day is really more for them than it is for those who are all too ready to be giddy.  Remember, it was the fools who were upstairs in Herod's palace.  They were there engaging in their drunken foolishness while John the Baptist sat imprisoned.  But, those upstairs were not rejoicing.  They were given over to buffoonery, but not to joy.  

Today is for those who are like John the Baptist.  All of those who are burdened can indeed rejoice because Jesus Christ is, in fact, the One who was promised.  He makes the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.  The sorrowing have special cause to rejoice because they are the ones to whom Jesus comes.  

There is a beautiful three volume commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew written by a man named Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis.  Referring to the Eleventh Chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew (the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent) he writes:

"It appears that John himself is simply fulfilling in advance one of the prophecies Jesus has just made to his apostles: that they would be persecuted by the world and 'dragged before governors and kings' (10:18).  Indeed, this will be the destiny of Jesus, too, in his Passion, so that the pattern is established clearly and inexorably: the way of fidelity to God and of cooperation with God's giving of himself to the world leads through the dungeons of human injustice and cruelty.  Is this perhaps because what most needs to be redeemed is precisely this injustice and cruelty, and because the presence of a light-filled man such as John in the prison of Herod Antipas is the beginning of the bursting open of all prisons?"

To all who today don't feel much like joining the party up in Herod's palace, don't.  That's not real joy.  It is a cheap imitation.  Real joy can be discovered in the most dismal of places.  It can be found in every place where the Gospel of Christ penetrates.  Yes, Jesus and his joy comes to those who dwell in darkness.  Just ask John the Baptist.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your beautiful spiritual insights. In this loud, noisy, and secular world, sometimes
    I find it difficult to find joy in this Advent, preparing for His coming, as the real meaning of Christmas seems to be silenced and discarded. Blessings.