This 3rd Sunday of Advent the liturgy calls us to rejoice and this Sunday is rightly called “Gaudete” Sunday. The entrance song for some centuries was always from the Letter to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)
The evangelists in their respective openings used legal terms like witness and testifying. It is as if the whole world is a court room. John is, so to speak, the defense lawyer for the sake of Jesus and human beings are prosecutor. Witnesses are called by virtue of their integrity and the truthfulness of their words. That is why it is the task of the prosecutor to prove the reliability of the witness. John was a reliable witness. He has no ulterior motives. He is clean of heart. His testimony is true on the basis of his experience of God’s power, It happened in the womb that he leapt for joy. The joy stayed with him. It was that experience of being cleansed and being born into the world sinless as our theologians say, that John awaited for him. He came out from his hidden life when he heard about Jesus. It was like his whole being was telling him that Jesus was the one. The Pharisees and the Scribes sent delegates to see and ask John by what right he is baptizing. Even with their knowledge and strict adherence of the law the Pharisees and the scribes would not dare baptize people. This is an act that has to be ratified by God. The people knew John was a prophet. Jesus would ask the Pharisees and the scribes later who John was and they would not answer. They feared the crowd because it believes John was a prophet.
Before Vatican II it was a serious debate among theologians about the nature of mysticism that is, the actual experience of the reality of faith. Some say it was a special privilege. It was an exception to the rule that some people experience grace. It was only for the mystics and visionaries. We all fall in the category of believers by faith, that is what is told of us by authority, by believing another person who taught us what to believe ; parents, teachers, pastors and the church. After Vatican II we have learned that God is Emmanuel and the grace that came along with it is our for the sharing. As Rahner puts it: Jesus is our experience of God and the gift of the spirit is the entry to that experience. So to experience God is not exclusive for the mystics and visionaries. Like John our own life or rather we should be witnessing to Jesus in our lives, to the world. The credentials needed, is to live a life according to Jesus’, a peaceable person, a sacrificing person for the sake of others and a life of simplicity accepting life and in all the circumstances we find in it. To be rich and happy from the experience of the Divine like John who went into the desert to enjoy that pristine experience of his in the womb of his mother when he lept for joy. When he came back to testify that Jesus was their long awaited Messiah, he was unencumbered with the heavy load of the desire for wealth, power, fame which was sought by many. That is why the authorities and the expert of the Law would like to know who he was and by what right he was baptizing, because if John was they have to reconcile themselves with the demands of the prophet. They killed Jeremiah in his own time because he spoke harshly and he demanded too much from them to give up the gods they made for themselves. John knew who he was, his task was to announce that someone is coming of whose sandals he is not even worthy to untie (the act of a slave). When I was young I often wondered why the Protestant prayer gatherings were always packed. We grew up in an age where the expression of faith is frowned upon and Catholics associated such prayer gatherings as protestant, that is outside the catholic church. Catholics could not experience God. We relied on our faith, that is doctrines found in the book, the moral teachings we read in catechesis, the absolute authority of our pastors and bishops and the inerrant teachings of the church. This caused so much internal psychological damage to many. They led split lives: an external conformity to the faith, and a hidden personal life in quest for answers to the pressing questions that affected their daily lives. They did this without any guidance from their shepherds. The sinner cannot experience God. And so they did they best they can, making oftentimes bad decisions and going through life with a heavy burden in their hearts. Had our faith in doctrines and truths been accompanied by the teaching that God can be experienced, that it was not the exclusive experience of those who are good and upright. That sinners too can experience the merciful God through the forgiveness of their sins. It is the experience of this loving God that makes us sin less. The world will have been a better place for us, less schizophrenic because there is the experience of God’s forgiveness when we repent as John urged people in this own time too. It was a cause for joy for the people to hear him say repent because the Messiah is coming to save them through the forgiveness of their sins. Today is Gaudete Sunday meaning “Rejoice.” Pure doctrines and regulations do not have the power to make us rejoice..Only the experience of the Messiah coming into our hearts has that power.