Today is called Gaudete Sunday because today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon: “Gaudete in Domino semper,” it means “Rejoice in the Lord always.” So, to express our joy in the coming of Jesus as our Savior, we light the rose candle in the Advent wreath, and the priests wear rose vestments.
One evening at the country park, a group of teenage boys was playing basketball. A tall man walked up. The man watched for a few minutes, then asked if he might play with them. The stranger played basketball for about fifteen minutes with the teenagers, thanked them for letting him play, and disappeared. The stranger didn’t tell the teenagers his name. They’d seen Michael Jordan on TV, and he looked like him. But could this stranger who came to a remote village actually be Michael Jordan?
John the Baptist asks the same kind of question about Jesus. Could this gentle Jesus with a band of fishermen as his disciples be the real Messiah, the long awaited Anointed One of God, while the Messiah he had prefigured was a firebrand?
In the Gospel we see Jesus encourages John the Baptist in prison to rejoice by casting away his wrong expectations about the Messiah and simply accepting Jesus’ healing and preaching ministry as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah.
Scripture scholars over the centuries have wondered why John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he were the one who was to come. There are two possible explanations: 1) John knew that Jesus was the Christ and, as a prisoner, he wanted his disciples to follow Jesus as their new master. So, he sent them to ask Jesus this question and presumed that, once they had met Jesus, they would see for themselves that he was the Messiah and so would become followers of Jesus.
2) John began to doubt Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah. The silent healing, preaching, saving, and empowering ministry of Jesus was a surprise to John and to those who expected a fire-and-brimstone Messiah. Besides, Jesus had not yet fulfilled John’s prediction that the One-to-come would baptize the repentant in the Holy Spirit.
We need to learn how to survive a Faith crisis. If John the Baptist, even after having had a direct encounter with Jesus, the Messiah, had his doubts about Jesus and his teachings, we, too, can have our crises of Faith. On such occasions, let us pray to God to increase our trusting Faith. Our lives can be transformed, if we are patient enough and place our trust in God.
We are called to be greater than a prophet, greater than John the Baptist, in our mission. We’re supposed to become Jesus’ voice, Jesus’ hands, Jesus’ feet, Jesus’ heart. As Saint Teresa of Avila would say, “Christ has no body on earth now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth. Yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.
Under a cultural exchange program, a rabbi from Russia was visiting a Christian family in Texas. Since it was Christmas, the family wanted to take him to some of the finest places in Houston, so they all went to a favorite Chinese restaurant. Throughout the meal the rabbi extolled the wonders of America in comparison to the miserable conditions of his homeland. When they had finished eating, the waiter brought the check, a fortune cookie, and a small brass Christmas tree ornament as a present for the rabbi. They all laughed when the rabbi pointed out that the ornaments were stamped “made in India.” But it soon subsided when they saw that the rabbi was quietly crying. They all thought that the rabbi must have been offended by receiving a Christmas tree as a gift. But no, he smiled and said, I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country, in a Chinese restaurant in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu.
Jesus warned his disciples not to judge others. He called his disciples to love their enemies. Real spirit of Christmas is to joyfully share our love with others.