The Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent (A2)
Tu es, qui venturus es, an alium exspectamus?
Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another?
You know what? Life is not like we post it on Facebook. It’s ugly. The vast majority sees the world rather different than we do as wealthy westerners. I’m assuming that if you have a computer and an internet connection to read my ramblings, you’re wealthy by global standards. Prove me wrong. Most of our Christian ancestors lived on much less than you can imagine. Many of them died early of just living in their poverty. Others were killed outright for their faith. We complain about parking and the oppressions of our taxes. We also have fresh, clean water indoors (unless your in Flint, Michigan, under the Obama or Trump administrations) and until recently, freedom.
Do you ever have doubts? Your life may not be at all like someone from Flint or who lives in total poverty on the street outside your door, but do you ever wake up at night and wonder, What, exactly, am I doing? Have you ever gotten to the end of your chain and had to turn around and go back because, No, really. What am I doing? Have you ever bet literally everything on the course of events and yet still, Have I gone too far?
John the Baptist did.
The Fathers really go out of their way to find a reason for this scene in prison. John had known and recognized Jesus before they were born. From within the womb until now, he’s known who Jesus is and what he’s doing.
Are you really the one?
John the Baptist is in prison for calling out the adultery of the ancient world’s equivalent of Donald Trump, Jr. He’s not quite as bad as his father, but he’s still driven by passions and very petty. In the end it was Junior’s lust and pride that put John in jail, and the jealousy of Junior’s illicit bed partner – his brother’s wife. Today John would have been called a hater for denying the love of two consenting adults. We’d ban him from Twitter, and the president would add “Sad” to a few late-night binges.
But Herod put John in jail: that’s nothing like our idea of jail today. It’s more like being sent to “Special Detention” under President Obama. Where you’re in the dark, alone, except for a guard who tortures you in the dark so you can’t see his face, and you wonder if you’re family is alive or dead. Eventually, you wonder even if you’re alive or dead and you wonder how a Nobel Laureate gets you here. Herod’s jail is more like a dark hole where they can’t even see to take pictures of you and post them on social media.
All of the prophets have their moments of doubt. Moses breaks faith with God, Abraham can’t quite wait for his wife to have a child, the chains of slavery entered into Joseph’s very soul, it is said. And John’s faith weakened a bit. I can’t imagine how dark a hole it must have been, but my faith gets weak when there’s a cloudy day. So I can totally imagine this Obamian/Trumpian nightmare might be bad enough to make the greatest of prophets ask one – but really only one – question.
Are you the one or should we wait for another?
Gaudete. Rejoice! The introit for today begins, “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with Eucharist, let your requests be known to God.
That’s the real lesson. Things suck, but rejoice.
John might have had doubts (so did Peter and the others). But Jesus says, look: the 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.
And exactly what is that good news?
The Latin says “pauperes evangelizantur” the poor are evangelized. That might make you think of Billy Graham preaching pie in the sky, by and by when you die, or Joel Osteen preaching, “give me the money in your wallet so God can make me rich”. The poor are sucker-punched.
But the Greek says something more radical than Antifa, and more powerful than a signal-boosted occupation chant.
Jesus sas, πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται ptoxoi ewangelizontai. The poor are Gospelized. You’re going to want to know what a Gospel is first: it’s not a religious text. It’s a political text. When Augustus Caesar or, by this time, Tiberius Caesar conquered your area, his soldiers showed up at your city gates and “read you the good news”: Tiberius Caesar is now in charge and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll open these gates and give over peaceably. Jesus is not just saying “Oh, you know, peace, joy, love… can’t we all get along?” He’s actually saying, “I’m in charge here now. And you’re free – really, truly free – in ways that are going to make your former fellow slaves rather angry at you. Caesar is not Kyrios any more. I am.
The poor are made into the largest citizen army ever: for the kingdom of God.
And all the crap in this world – the sickness, the anger, the oppression, the slavery to Caesar – are done away with because while their accidents remain, their substance is changed: your marriage bed is now a sacrament of salvation, your wage slavery is a key to the virtue of humility, your status as the lowest of the low is now superseded by God going even lower to raise up everyone.
This is the Kingdom of God: tents on the street where saints dwell in their own light, communing with the Divine in prayer, saving even the wealthy around them.
Gaudete means “rejoice” and the Greek word (in Philippians) is Χαίρετε, chairete. It’s the first word spoken by the Angel to Mary when he brings her the Good News of the Incarnation. Χαῖρε, chaire. Rejoice! It’s the first word of the Gospel! Rejoice!
Can you stand to be this happy?
Doubts happen. Questions happen. The key is not to cave in to them. You need to ask your questions and then let the answers be given.