St John the Baptist standing in a landscape, Bernado Zanale (c.1460–1526)

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent (13 December)

Rejoice always, pray constantly, giving thanks in all circumstances.

This Sunday is called ‘Gaudete Sunday’ the Latin meaning ‘rejoice’. It is taken from the opening antiphon at this Sunday’s mass. This lightening of mood is also reflected in the colour rose for the vestments and third candle in the advent wreath. St Paul also tells us in the epistle reading that rejoicing, prayer, thanksgiving are the characteristics of those who are in Christ Jesus. Why? ‘Because he who calls you is faithful’ and has the ability to present us whole and blameless before the Lord on his return.

The Advent theme of looking forward to the day of the Lord’s return is important because it shapes how we view the present. The future vision of union with Christ and heavenly glory enables us to face the present, with all its difficulties, knowing that it isn’t permanent but passing. Our joy resides in the gift of the eternal promise of a new heaven and earth without tears, sorrow or sadness, and that shall never pass away.

We are given a foretaste of that heavenly reality through our communion with Christ in our active prayer, thanksgiving and celebration of the sacraments. It is in the very actions of prayer and thanksgiving that enables us to experience the reality of the future promise. As we hear in Isaiah; “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness”. The sacrament of our baptism should be brought to mind. This is no ‘pie in the sky, when you die’ but the reality that we are children of God and citizens of the heavenly kingdom now. Once we have grasped this vision we are more able to wait patiently in faith, hope and love, for the fullness of that promise to be revealed.

It was this very reality that enabled John the Baptist to say that he was nothing, in this world, but ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’. He understood that the Christ to whom he would bear witness too, even to the point of giving up his life, was holy and the fulfilment of all God’s long given promises. Christ has been revealed therefore the future hope is assured.

John therefore clings to nothing in this world that is passing away, status, riches or honour and claims that he isn’t even worthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah. It was the servant’s or slave’s job to take the sandals off his master’s feet and wash them when he had returned to the house — yet John says he not worthy to be even called a slave of the Christ.

John puts his trust in the one who is more than a master, indeed he is God made flesh. It is however this Messiah who will nevertheless kneel down and wash his disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. In doing so he reveals the nature of divine love as an example for all to follow and a glimpse of the kingdom to come.