When Alice fell through the rabbit hole in Wonderland, she was convinced that she had fallen right through the earth and was destined to come out where people would be upside down. When she finally landed, however, Alice discovered that the world was not upside down, but it certainly was out of proportion to her size. It was a whole new world of reversals for her where she had to change, to get smaller in order to enter that mysterious world.
The third Sunday of Advent invites us into a world of reversals, a world where the captives are freed, where the hungry are filled, and where the rich are sent away empty. It is certainly a world where things are turned upside down. From God’s point of view these are signs of transformation. In order to appreciate the strength of today’s message from Isaiah, we must remember that he was speaking to people who were dispossessed, people in need of a message of hope, a promise of some kind of economic reversal. This same description of reversal is found in the passage from Luke. There we see that the lowly enjoy the blessings that God promised long ago.
Today is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for joy. We are called to rejoice. Paul invites us to rejoice. Mary rejoices because the Lord has done great things for her. The source of all this joy is the coming of the Promised One, Jesus, whose name means to save. Jesus is coming, not just to save us from our sins, but to bring about the wonderful dream of Isaiah described in today’s first reading. There is indeed so much to be happy about and rejoice in. Yet, the question remains, are we really able to rejoice? G K Chesterton once remarked, ‘why is it that Christians, who bear such good news, look so sad?’
One reason for our lack of joy could be the fallacy that ‘Jesus is the answer to everything’. This is certainly a mode of witness that many Christians are eager to adopt. Jesus has the answer to every one of life’s problems. Jesus will make you happy. Jesus will make you secure. Jesus will give you the answers to all your questions from where the universe came from to what is the best way to vote. No matter what the question is, Jesus is the answer. This kind of mentality suggests that Jesus is some kind of magic wand that I can wave. Meanwhile, Jesus has no personal impact on me. I can merrily continue doing what I like, puffing up my ego and nourishing a covetous heart. There is no suggestion of downsizing my ego or like Alice, becoming smaller, so as to enter into the mysterious world of Jesus.
In his encyclical, ‘The Joy of Evangelisation” Pope Francis has stern words about the covetous heart and how it can rob us of our joy. “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and a blunted conscience”. For Pope Francis it’s all about following Jesus and to follow Jesus is to evangelize in the face of this consumerism with a fierce and unrelenting joy. “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”
Advent means ‘coming’ which we usually understand as God coming to us while we do the waiting. But God is already here in the person of Jesus and the real waiting is on God’s side – God waiting for us to come to the plate. “Standing among you is one unknown to you”, says the Baptist speaking to the eager crowds hanging on his every word. Obviously he was unknown to them, but how well is he known to us? Certainly in the Church we are always talking about Jesus. In theory there’s nothing more important for us. But pretty quickly we find ourselves heading so much toward our own ideas, projects, activities that all too often Jesus ends up on the back burner. We ourselves are the ones who unwittingly “hide” him by putting ourselves in the forefront.
Possibly Christianity’s greatest disgrace is that for so many men and women who call themselves Christian, Jesus is absent from their hearts. They don’t know him. They don’t vibrate with him. He doesn’t attract or seduce them. Jesus is an inert and darkened figure. He’s silent. He says nothing special to breathe life into their lives. Their existence isn’t marked by Jesus.
Our Church urgently needs “witnesses” to Jesus; believers who look more like him, Christians who by their way of being and living facilitate the path to believe in Christ. We need witnesses who speak of God the way Jesus speaks, who communicate his message of compassion as he did, who spread trust in the Father as he did.
John the Baptist never claimed to be the Christ, or the light, or the Word, or even a prophet. He merely said he was a witness to the Light and that we should prepare the way for him. In today’s very complex and confused world that is still an urgent task. In the Church no one is “the Light”, but all of us can shine that light through our lives. No one is “God’s Word”, but all of us can be a voice that invites and encourages the focusing of Christianity on Jesus Christ.
Sunday, 14 December 2014