Joy as we wait


Today is Gaudete Sunday, a day on which we are invited already to partake of the joy of Christ’s coming –even while we are still in Advent. We can participate a little in that joy right now because we know that Jesus is near. In today’s readings (found here) there is a series of reflections on how and why we ought to have joy in a world that is not yet perfect, indeed even in a world that still suffers.

The Gospel features Jesus answering John’s question: is he the Messiah, the one for whom they have been waiting, or is there another to come? John is in prison and about to be beheaded by Herod because of the ways in which he spoke openly, precisely because of his prophetic stance. From John’s point of view, the world does not look much as though the Messiah has already arrived, for not only is there not complete peace on earth, but he himself is about to be killed. Jesus’s answer is not some false optimism that ignores human suffering. Jesus offers John consolation not by denying John’s plight. Rather, Jesus urges John to pay attention to the signs around him: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear.” This is to be John’s comfort and also our own.

Jesus’ answer recommends that we, as well as John, look actively for where God is in our midst. Where is their healing? Where is there  justice? Where is there reconciliation? Where is there love? That is where God is at work–not through God’s snapping some sort of magical fingers to bring peace and justice, but rather through a most incarnational means–through Jesus, through a God who works in and through our humanity.

What are we today to do in light of these readings? Like John, we need to look for the signs. To this the readings add the voices of Isaiah and Paul: “Be strong, fear not!” Isaiah says. Paul recommends patience, following the prophets, who worked and spoke up for what is just, even as they suffered. We can recall leaders also like Martin Luther King, Jr who advocated for racial justice in a world that treated their protests punitively, yet who hoped with patience and trust that God’s justice, and not human sin, would eventually reign.We can ourselves work for justice and peace, just as Jesus actively worked to heal others, but even more deeply trust that God is working in and through our human world. These actions are partially hidden, but they are also partially visible to us. Yet we have to look for these signs of God, if we want to see. Then we will have some of the joy that follows from witnessing to the sight of divine love.