St. John the Baptist by Titian

This Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Guadete Sunday.  As we progress in the Advent season, we are to rejoice at the approach of our Savior.

Today’s readings focus our attention on John the Baptist, who pointed the way to Christ, and serves as a model of how we are to discover the Gospel Joy of doing the same.

Last Sunday we heard that “the word of God came to John.”  (Luke 3: 2)  This ‘encounter’ for the Baptist became the defining moment of his life.  I reflected last week that even for us, our defining moment also flows from our own personal encounter with God’s Word, with Jesus Christ.

Our encounter with Christ gives meaning, purpose and direction to everything else for the duration of our life.  When we skip, or miss, or diminish this seminal moment, our life sputters, never quite reaching our full potential or purpose in the eyes of God.

Today’s Gospel reveals how this ‘encounter’ played out in the life of John the Baptist, and gives us a glimpse of how it is to play out in our own life.

John preached a Baptism of repentance.  He preached the necessity of preparing the way for the Lord into the world; into each individual life.

John was so devoted to this mission given him by God, that many thought he himself was the long-awaited Messiah.  So intimately did he associate himself with ‘the Word of God’ that many confused him for the Word itself.  John so faithfully fulfilled his vocation that Jesus said of him: “there is none greater born of woman.”  But the Baptist humbly acknowledged:

I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Because John’s life was so fully integrated with God’s work and will; because of his integrity in the manner he went about the work entrusted to him by God, people listened to him.  And because they believed in the message of Good News he preached, they asked:

What should we do?

John’s basic response to the variety of people seeking his direction:

Act justly! Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise. – Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.

We see then, that Gospel joy is rooted in our association with Jesus Christ, and also includes living in right and just relationships with each other.

Psalm 106 sheds light upon the source of our joy, the joy which the Baptist discovered:

They are happy who do what is right, who at all times do what is just.

My friends, this is the Gospel Joy we celebrate today.  This is the Gospel Joy we spread when we associate ourselves closely with Christ and his Gospel.  Guadete Sunday is about re-discovering this happiness – the Joy of doing what is right and just before God.

John the Baptist must certainly have known the happiness – the joy of doing what is right – because he at all times did what was just.

Yet, note well – Gospel Joy – Happiness – Beatitude – does not mean to be free from conflict or the cross.  John lived a stark life. He ended up in prison and ultimately was executed because of his devotion to doing God’s work and will.

So, we ask ourselves: “What does this Gospel Joy look like for us?”

First: We need a conscious awareness of God’s will for our life.  As we have seen, this flows naturally from our own encounter and relationship with Jesus.  Gospel Joy is achieved when we devote our life to God – to doing God’s work and will.

Second: Gospel Joy is discovered in discipleship – by closely following Jesus.  Our discipleship becomes witness when we as John the Baptist point the way to Jesus Christ for others.  Some people in the time of John the Baptist were confused about his identity – thinking he was the Christ.  Do my actions & values, my priorities and beliefs, my association with Jesus reveal Him to others?  Do others see Christ in me?  This is the type of discipleship and witness that gives Christianity – Catholicism credibility in our world today.

We reveal the face of God, the power of God to others through our own witness of faith.  Our discipleship lends joy to our hearts and to the hearts of others when our own acts of charity, tenderness, compassion and concern for others help them to believe that God has not forgotten them.  “They are happy who at all times do what is right and just.”

Finally, Gospel Joy entails sacrifice – it involves choosing the ways of God over the ways of the world.  Even in the face of persecution, we can know a deep sense of joy in the knowledge that we have taken the high road of goodness, justice and right over the more popular highway of what is popular or in fashion.  Gospel Joy in the face of suffering for righteousness trusts in the faithfulness of God and the abiding presence of Jesus to those who believe in and serve him.

Remember the final beatitude that Jesus gave us:

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

My friends, Gospel Joy is found in Jesus Christ, who is our Salvation!  May we discover and live this Truth.

May this Gospel Joy be yours now and forever. Amen.