REJOICE, REJOICE BELIEVERS
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2
The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete, which is Latin for rejoice. Although Advent is only four weeks in length it represents the millennia of darkness that shrouded the earth until the Sun of Righteousness should appear, until the Savior was born who obtained victory over all our enemies for us by the blood of the cross. Gaudete is not only a symbol however, but also a reminder. A reminder to rejoice in the Lord always, even in the midst of sorrow.
The normal liturgical color for Advent is violet because it is a season of repentance, but the color of Gaudete is pink, as we see by the Advent candle newly lit today. It is a gentle color, one that bespeaks light hearts and care free days, and so may the God of all comfort grant you light hearts and give you reason to rejoice each day.
The Propers for the day -- the Introit, Collect and Scripture lessons -- work together to express a joyous message that shields us from earth's daily sorrow, but before we hear it let us remember once again how it comes to us. Let us recall that God always works through intermediaries who more often than not strike us as ordinary, even inferior, and beneath the dignity of God, but St. Paul reminds us in today's epistle to regard God's messengers for what they actually are: servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God!
Isaiah was such a faithful servant, but the Gospel he preached, "comfort comfort ye my people," no doubt seemed foolish because in his day God's people were already quite comfortable. They did not think that they needed the double consolation the prophet had to offer. They were living the good life. The nation was prosperous and secure. Every belly was full, every heart merry and every soul fast asleep! They did not stop believing in God, it was the national religion after all, but they were only honoring Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him. They professed one thing with their mouth, but another by their crooked conduct. Day by day they moved farther away from their God which should serve as a warning to us, because it is easy to open the door, but can you close it once you do? Judah could not, and a tragedy of biblical proportion was now on her horizon.
John the Baptizer was also a faithful servant, but nothing could be more foolish in the eyes of men than John. Why would he set up shop in a place that was hostile, inaccessible and as user-unfriendly as it gets? Why would he preach a message certain to offend the pride of every person who made the perilous journey to hear him? Why would he do something as inglorious as baptize in the inferior waters of the Jordan River and direct all attention away from himself to the coming Lamb? Only so that we might learn the lesson that God delights to teach, namely that the weakness of God is stronger than men and the foolishness of God wiser than the wisdom of men. We learn this from the results. What started out as a lonely voice crying in the wilderness became the official religion of the mighty Roman empire within 300 years, and today there is no nation on earth in which the Savior is not worshiped and loved.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was likewise the faithful messenger of the Father, but He was more than that. Not only was He different from John in degree, but also in kind. He is the mystery of God incarnate, the Word of the Father now in flesh appearing. None the less, 750 years before His birth Isaiah asks this question, "Lord, who has believed our report?" What did he mean? By all reasonable standards Jesus was a failure. He was born in obscurity, in poverty and had no place to lay His head. By some inexplicable power He could save others, that was indisputable, but in the end He could not save Himself. That was the chatter!
However, He did not come to save Himself, but us: to deliver us from the wilderness of sin, to give us life in a world without end, to make us death-proof, judgment-proof, and to avert the temporal and eternal punishment that our sins so richly deserve. Thanks to our Lord's redeeming love our record is now expunged, our pardon granted, our transgressions washed away in the flood of baptism, forgotten by God, never to haunt us again. That is the blessed estate we enjoy by faith in the name of Jesus, a holy name we must always reverence and never use in vain.
John and his disciples longed to hear that gospel. So do we, and what a gospel it is: the great reversal of man's every ill! Go and tell John what you see and hear. The blind see, the lepers are made well, the dead are raised to life, and the poor now hear what the poor never hear: good news of great joy! Whenever we read reversal sequences in scripture as we do here, or in the Magnificat, they are a signal that lets us know Jesus is near, and that there is overwhelming reason to rejoice, reason to shed our sorrow and lift up our heads because our salvation is finally here.
Jesus informs us in today's gospel that of all the men ever born to woman, there is none greater than John...but that he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John. Jesus is talking about Himself. He is the King of heaven Who made Himself the least, the servant of all, Who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. What John announced, Jesus fulfilled. John paved the way, but Jesus traveled it to the bitter end: to the cross, the grave and on to glorious resurrection, for us men and for our salvation. May we follow in His faithful footsteps with Joy this day. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras