John the Baptist, after being arrested, sends his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus answers them by giving the instruction to witness what they observe. He says: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: he blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” These are all signs that the Kingdom of God is being established.
Isaiah prophesies the day when the Lord will visit his people. The transformation that will occur (as we have seen in recent Sunday readings) will be great. In the first reading for today’s Mass the significance of the Lord’s coming is expressed through several different images of transformation.
The desert will “bloom with abundant flowers.” The “hands that are feeble” will be strengthened. The “knees that are weak” will be made firm. The “eyes of the blind” will be opened. The “ears of the deaf will be cleared.” The lame will “leap like a stag.” “The mute will sing.” And those who live with fear will hear the words: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
The advent of Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom of God. The Lord’s visitation is upon us. The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice!” The vestments for the liturgy are a rose color as distinguished from the purple used for the other Sundays of Advent.
In the Season of Advent we prepare. First we prepare for the return of the Lord, the Second Coming. We heighten our vigilance for his return. Second, as we get closer to Christmas we prepare to celebrate and remember his first coming. Today, in the midst of these preparations, we are reminded that Jesus has come and remains with us. He has established his kingdom. He has visited his people. He is alive and dwells among us through his Spirit. Our response to this is rejoicing.
After Jesus speaks with John’s disciples he addresses the crowds saying: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John prepared for and longed to see the coming of the Lord. He was a prophet who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah and he baptized Jesus before the public ministry began. He longed for this “day,” the time of the Messiah. Now as the kingdom is proclaimed, John is in prison soon to be executed. He will not be able to witness for himself the kingdom as it is being established. Yet those who follow him will be able to witness it, to experience it, to live in it and to have life because of it. Hence Jesus says “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John].”
We are the “least in the kingdom,” and the words of instruction Jesus gives to John’s disciples, he addresses to us. Witness what you see. Day after day we see the saving effects of faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We witness the power of Christ to relieve one from fear; to open the eyes of those trapped in darkness; to strengthen those weighed down by sorrow or oppression; to “lift up” those who are suffering with illness or tragedy; to restore to health those who are burdened by sin; to scatter the clouds of confusion with understanding and truth; to give hope to the hopeless and to give joy to the downtrodden.
Today we are called to rejoice in the saving power of God and to proclaim his works, to be witnesses of his kingdom and the power of his love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St,. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.