How many times have you heard people say things like, “All faiths are the same. You just have to be a good person?”
That’s not true!
Christian faith is that our God comes to us. He is always coming to us. We don’t go to Him, but we do prepare ourselves to receive Him because He is coming to us. He wants to live with us, so we can live with Him. That is our faith.
If we compare our religion to other religions, it becomes very clear that God’s coming to us makes everything different. God will come to us. God has come to us over and over. God in His only Son, Jesus lives with us in the Sacraments and in His Word. Jesus will return again at the end of time.
Our Advent is the way we live with our God, always preparing for His coming, because He loves us. That is why today, on the third Sunday of Advent we are permitted to put on Rose vestments and rejoice, “Gaudete” in Latin. Today the entire Church recognizes that all prophecy is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. Advent prepares us for Christmas. All prophecy is fulfilled at Bethlehem.
Bethlehem stands at the center of all history of mankind. There is a “before” and there is an “after”, and Christmas stands at the center. We refer to all time before the birth of Jesus as “BC”, Before Christ; and to all time after the birth of Jesus as AD, the year of our Lord, “Anno Domini”. Secular society is attempting to teach our children and erase Christmas as simply a religious holiday. Secular society now is attempting to get us to use “Before the Christian Era”, BCE and “CE”, the Christian Era. However, you cannot be a student of human history and literature and fail to recognize the Center of All History. You can fill libraries with obvious differences in Human experience between BC and AD, the Year of our Lord. It’s the reason we say, “Merry Christmas”.
The distinguishing difference is “Hope”. Hope for salvation. Hope for Eternal Life. The effect of this Hope on human life and history is enormous. We live in a Sacramental era. Sacraments are Christ, and they strengthen our hopefulness and enriches our culture in many ways. Jesus’ gift to our culture includes orphanages, public schools, hospitals, monasteries, convents and universities which never existed before, BC, to protect and enrich human society. Jesus is still with us and will be with us forever. You can choose to live a BC life, but before Hope. However, once people experience Christian Hope, they normally do not choose to return to the hopeless pagan cultures that existed before the birth of Jesus, BC. Most of those pagan cultures have disappeared in Anno Domini.
The reason for our joy, “Gaudete”, is Jesus’ coming and ending the godless ancient era without him, BC.
Our readings on Gaudete Sunday recall John the Baptist, whose life was given to announce the coming of the Messiah and prepare the people for his coming.
I invite you to share a meditation with me regarding the Apostle John, author of the Gospel of John. Share with me that we are now hearing John when he became the Apostle in Ephesus, where he probably lived with Mary, taken as his mother at the direction of Jesus on the Cross. As John becomes their bishop, he is concerned to find many who believe that Christian baptism is the baptism of John the Baptist and his followers. For the misinformed it was as if the Baptist were the Messiah, and a lot of people began to believe this error, and carried it with them to other countries.
The Apostle John knew this was not true. So, come with me to see the Apostle’s struggles to form his parishioners in Ephesus in right understanding of Jesus’ identity, with good Catechesis. Listen to John telling his parishioners in Ephesus these words in his Gospel,
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The Apostle tells us that John the Baptist became very popular in all of Israel and people came from all over to listen to his preaching. He preached repentance. Even the Jewish Temple authorities in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites and Pharisees to listen to John and report back. They asked him,
“Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
Three times the Apostle John records John denied being the Messiah.
So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as Isaiah the prophet said.”
As to John’s baptism, the Pharisees asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
The Apostle John honored the Baptist, but his Gospel has helped us to know and understand many things, about Jesus the Christ, and our own Baptism. And, he helped us to understand John the Baptist.
Jesus’ last mandate to his Apostles, when he sent them out to the world was,
“… Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”