Phil. 4:4-7; Jn. 1:19-28
Today, is the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, from the first words of the introit of today’s Mass, “Rejoice,” from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians. We use the rose vestments. We rejoice because so near is the coming celebration of our Lord’s birth. We rejoice because the Lord is near and gives us hope.
St. Paul had a very close relationship with the Philippians. While he had his hands full with his missionary journeys, the Philippians took to the Gospel right away. They were his consolation. What has happened in our Epistle is that St. Paul is in prison in Rome for proclaiming the Gospel. What is worse, he became ill. The Philippians heard of this, and they did what we still do when we don’t know what else to do, they took a collection. And they sent it with Epaphroditus, who looked after him until he got well. The Epistle to the Philippians is St. Paul’s thank you note to them which he sends back with Epaphroditus.
In today’s except, he tells the Philippians to rejoice because the Lord is near. These are remarkable words for a man unjustly imprisoned and having suffered illness. He goes on to explain, “because the Lord is near.” He says, “May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, keep your minds and hearts in Christ.” There are things in this life which we do not understand, but the Lord’s presence and peace are beyond understanding. Knowing that the Lord is near, we can rejoice, no matter what our circumstances, and we can be at peace.
The message of St. John the Baptist is the same, the Lord is near. He must have been a confounding figure to the religious leaders of the day. They send him a delegation to ask, “Who are you?” The Lord says, “I am. I am the Bread of Life, I am the resurrection and the life.” St. John the Baptist says, “I am not. I am not the messiah.” He says, “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” His words are from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah, which his hearers would understand. In those days, when an important dignitary would come to town, the populace would go out to the rocky desert and prepare the road, removing brush which may have collected, stones washed in by the rain, leveling the road to facilitate the way of the one expected. So we do, during the Advent Season, we remove any obstacles to the coming of the Lord within us, but also around us.
The presence of St. John the Baptist begs the question why the Lord needed anyone to prepare His way. It is because, as we know, the Lord was rejected. St. John the Baptist says, “There is One in your midst Whom you do not know.” This Gospel passage comes at the end of the prologue of the Gospel of St. John, where he says the Light came into the world, but men loved darkness. The Lord was rejected then, and He is rejected now.
We can help Him by announcing His coming, by preparing His way. His way is a road, but His way is also a way of life. By our way of life, we bear witness to the Lord and prepare for His coming into our lives and into the world. We keep the commandments, we follow the precepts of the Church, and we must never forget, that we are a people of hope. The Lord is our one hope, He is our only hope, and without Him, lives in hopelessness and desperation.
Many cultures observe the Advent and Christmas Seasons with the luminarias, lights which are placed on the walkway from the street to their doors, to make easier the way of the Lord to their homes. We are like those lights, which prepare the way of the Lord into the world.
The train which passes by our chapel continues on by St. John’s Seminary where I attended many years ago. I used to like to sit on the benches and take in the beauty and the silence of the Camarillo plane. One thing you learn about the train is that before you see the train, you hear the train. The whistle sounds in the distance, you know the train is near, and then the train appears. So it is with St. John the Baptist and our Lord. Before we see the Lord, we hear of His coming. St. John announces Him, like the whistle of the train, and then, sure enough, He appears. Our lives are like that train whistle. We announce the coming of the Lord.
And, all the while, we rejoice, because He is near.