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Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent "Gaudete", Year B

You may have heard the message “A dog is for life, not just for

Christmas”. Well, we can say the opposite with the assembly of candles

behind me: “An Advent wreath is for Advent and Christmas, not for life”.

Once the Christmas season finishes, the wreath is put away and the rest of

the liturgical calendar unfolds.

So in some ways, the figure of St John the Baptist today is a bit like an

Advent wreath. He is there just to point the people to Christ and call them

to repentance, not to be a permanent figure. If we read the later parts of St

John’s Gospel, we see that John’s disciples, just like the people in general,

leave him behind to follow Christ. In John chapter three, he is asked what

he thinks about it. John is not one for drawing attention to himself, and he

recognises his place in God’s plan. He says:

“A man can lay claim

only to what is given him from heaven …

He must grow greater,

I must grow smaller” (3:27. 30).

The temptation for a priest can be to foster a sort of personality cult,

distracting people away from the Lord. And in other settings, it’s not

unknown for people to use their position, their public image and so on to

build themselves up, sometimes at the cost of others.

So John is a real example of humility for us, and of faithfulness to his

vocation. You could say that it wouldn’t have been any good for him to

have resisted anyway – how can he compete with the incarnate Son of

God? Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, with “gaudete” meaning

rejoice. It brought joy to John’s heart to know that people were following

the Lord in such numbers – it was his life’s work to make that happen, and

he didn’t want to cast a shadow over it.

In the first reading, it opens with, “The spirit of the Lord has been given to

me for the Lord has anointed me”. Certainly that applies to John the

Baptist. But it applies to us, too. We have been anointed with the Holy

Spirit in both our baptism and our confirmation, and our task is to

powerfully witness to the Lord in our own setting, whether in the family, at

school, in the workplace or when mixing with friends. If you come across

something good, you want to tell others about it: it might be a film you

saw, a new chocolate biscuit you tried, or maybe a place you visited. With

our faith, it can be the same as well. Going to Mass week by week might

seem quite the same, unless there was something unusual that happened, or

some discovery you made, or an experience of God’s presence that you

felt. But we can also delve into new areas by going on retreat, or a new

book or video on some aspect of the faith that interests us. Our faith can

be ever new, and our relationship with the Lord can grow.

Of course, there can be things that don’t work, or maybe you’re not ready

for. When I was in my late teens, someone invited me along to a

charismatic prayer group, and people prayed in tongues. And they were

switching between English and tongues, not just mid-sentence, but mid

word. Some might have thought, wow, this is just like the early Church,

when the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles at Pentecost. Instead I

just felt uncomfortable, and perhaps a bit scared, and never went again.

But now I have no problem with it. God’s ways are not always our ways,

and we have to get used to that.

So, what kind of an end did John the Baptist get? After all his witnessing,

what happened? Well, you might answer that he got locked up by the

king, and then had his head chopped off. But you’re wrong. Or at least

only partially right. What kind of an end did he get? He was welcomed to

heaven in glory, of course. Our Lord Himself said, “I tell you solemnly, of

all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never

been seen” (Matt 11:11). His martyrdom was preparation for entry into

eternal life, a bit like St John Fisher and St Thomas More, who were also

beheaded. Or listen to these words from the Catholic martyr, Blessed John

Sugar, just before his execution: “although I shall have a sharp dinner, yet

I trust in Jesus Christ that I shall have a most sweet supper”.

Things change throughout our life. Sometimes we might be more on

display, like the Advent wreath, or John the Baptist, but there comes the

time to give way when the Lord wants to do something new. And, like

John, sometimes great tragedy in our life only paves the way to future

glory – glory that will only be revealed the other side of the grave.

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