“Are you the one who is to come, or are to wait for another?” (Matthew 11: 3)
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. It is traditionally called “Gaudate Sunday.” Gaudate is the Latin word for “Rejoice.” The Church invites us to rejoice because our Lord is near. The Entrance Antiphon is very emphatic about this: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice. In deed the Lord is near” (Philippians 4: 4). You notice the priest’s chasuble at this Mass is changed from violet to rose or pink The third Advent Candle, also called the “Shepherd’s Candle”, with same colour is lit up as a symbol of this joy that we are called to share in anticipation of the Lord whose arrival is near.
A Wait in Hope: With the closeness of the coming of the Lord, St. James in the Second Reading (James 5: 7-10) exhorts us: “Be patient until the Lord’s day.” He cautions us against any form of anxiety and complaints. With the analogy of the farmer who patiently wait for the time of harvest, he encourages us to wait in renewed hope.
For the second successive Sunday the Church presents John the Baptist as our model for Advent. We cannot over-emphasise the importance of John the Baptist nor his role in the life and ministry of Jesus. I love us to reflect on the theme of waiting from the character of this “greatest man born of a woman.” John the Baptist, we know was the forerunner or precursor of Jesus; he was the “voice crying in the wilderness”; he came to prepare a “way for the Lord”; and to present to the Lord a “people ready” to meet Him. But more than these, John the Baptist was the one privileged to present the Messiah to the world: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1: 29). This gracious task set John the Baptist apart from all the other prophets that ever lived and will ever live. This is why in today’s Gospel Jesus tell us: “I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John has never been seen …” For, whereas the other prophets before John prophesied about the coming of the Messiah and His works, John the Baptist knew Him before He was born and introduced Him as the Lamb of God, the Messiah to the world.
“Are you the one who is to come, or are to wait for another?” (Matthew 11: 3): The image of John that cuts across from the Gospel is that of a man waiting anxiously for someone or something. Certainly so, he was waiting for the manifestation of the Messiah in Jesus or Jesus as the Messiah. Waiting could be boring, challenging and difficult, but waiting in a prison cell could be traumatic. This is where we locate John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. Was he getting impatient here in the prison? Was his faith waning? Was his hope experiencing a sliding slope? Some have suggested so. But that would be too extreme a thought to posit for a man who knew Jesus before birth; at seeing Him “leapt in his mother’s womb for joy” (Luke 1: 41); and pointed Him out to the world. It is more plausible rather to affirm that John’s question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another” (Matthew 11: 3) was a question from a heart full of hope and desirous to see the manifestation of the Messianic promises in Jesus. All he sought for was a confirmation so that he may truly “decrease while He increases” (John 3: 30). Let our hearts surge in hope for The One Who is to come. For this hope does not and cannot fail. Let us not grow impatient and be weary of waiting. Remember Isaiah 40: 31 says: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings of eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” This is our story too.
“Go and tell John what you hear and see …” (Matthew 11: 4): Jesus’ answer seems a bit evasive but He was only referring John the Baptist to what may be called “Messianic indicators” in the book of the prophets: “Go back and tell John what you hear and see”, He said, “the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor …” (Matthew 11: 4-5). These were the signs that were associated with the Messiah as we read from the First Reading (Isaiah 35: 1-6, 10). Isaiah prophesying to the Israelites in exile about their time of deliverance, which was a foretaste of the age of the Messiah said: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer, the tongues of the dumb sing for joy” (Isaiah 35: 5-6). Notice that Jesus adds: “lepers are cleansed … the dead are raised and Good News proclaimed to the poor.” The miracles of cleansing the leper and raising the dead were strictly assigned to God (1 Kings 5: 7). So here Jesus was affirming His identity as the Son of God and Messiah. John the Baptist would have understood this from his knowledge of the Old Testament prophesies that He was “The One Who was to come.”
Who are we waiting for? The rhetorical questions of Jesus in the gospel are very apt for further personal reflection during this Advent. Jesus asked: “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? A man wearing fine clothes? Then what did you go out to see? To see a prophet? We may have to pose these questions in this way: Who are we preparing for? What kind of Saviour are we looking for in Jesus? What do we expect from Him? Are we prepared to welcome the babe Messiah born in stable, lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes? Or do we want a king born in a palace laid in a golden court wrapped in fine linens? Are we prepared to accept Him with all He teaches and stands for? Shall we walk with Him to the Cross?
May God grant us the grace to wait patiently with burning hope for our Lord and Saviour.