Rejoice in the Lord...
The Lord is near

The Entrance Antiphon for today, Gaudete Sunday, and the message for this week on the parish’s marquee across the street is "Rejoice in the Lord. … The Lord is near." Gaudete is the Latin command which means rejoice. It is not an invitation; it is an imperative.

People rejoice at this time of year for different reasons. Children, perhaps because of the gifts they hope to receive. Merchants and some business people, because business may be booming at this time of year. Students and teachers, because they have a break from school or university. And we all know that "the reason for the season," the most profound reason for our joy is that God has sent his son as Savior of humankind, that our sins have been forgiven, that all of us have been invited to share in God’s divine life. We experience this divine life partially on earth and completely in heaven. And so, we rejoice, especially in Advent, and in this 3rd week of Advent.

In today’s reading, Isaiah promises us that a Messiah will come when "the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; that the lame will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute will sing." Who will this Messiah be? How will we recognize him? In today’s gospel, John the Baptist asks his disciples to ask Jesus "who are you? Are you the one who is to come?" Jesus says neither yes nor no. He replies simply yet profoundly, "Tell John what you hear and see. The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear." Jesus tells the disciples look and see, listen and hear. The signs that demonstrate the power and presence of the Messiah are being demonstrated by Jesus. The observation and information are so clear; it is right in front of people’s eyes. In Jesus’ day, nonetheless, some responded positively to Jesus, others rejected him outright, and many remained indifferent. Interestingly, in our day, even with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, some of our contemporaries respond positively to Jesus, others reject him outright, and many remain indifferent. What a mystery.

Let’s turn to the prophet Isaiah. Have you ever noticed that Jesus quotes Isaiah more than any other of the Old Testament prophets? Have you ever noticed that the Church in its liturgy uses the readings from Isaiah more than any other prophet? For example, the Church selects Isaiah for all four Sundays for its first readings in Advent. And at Christmas, all three Masses at midnight, at dawn, and during the day have their first readings from Isaiah.

Why did Jesus quote Isaiah so often? And why does the Church use readings from Isaiah so often? It seems to me that the Church highlights that Isaiah’s vision and prophecies are fulfilled in and by Jesus.

Isaiah is similar to the fifteen other Old Testament prophets in having criticized the people’s laxity in worshiping God, their distortion of truth when worshiping false gods, their injustices towards the poor and most needy in society. And all the prophets, including Isaiah, challenge the people to convert, to come back to God, to come back to righteousness, to right living. Isaiah, however, goes a step further. He envisions a future time, a time of unimagined peace and harmony, a time "when the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared, the lame persons will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute will sing." Isaiah does not refrain from speaking the bad news, but he is quick to add the good news. Today’s readings concludes with these words, "sorrow and mourning will flee. Those whom the Lord has ransomed will … enter Zion, [ i.e, Jerusalem, or the new Jerusalem,] singing and crowned with everlasting joy and gladness. Isaiah differs from the other prophets, it seems to me, in the kind and degree of future joy which he promises. And I think that Jesus quotes Isaiah because this is the message of the God-made-man. As Jesus says in St. John’s gospel: "I tell you these things so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." (Jn. 15.11)

As I began, I will conclude, "the Entrance Antiphon for today, and the message on the marquee for this week is "Rejoice in the Lord. … The Lord is near." Experience the divine joy which Isaiah promised, and which Jesus delivers.

Read other Homily by Father O'Malley