It’s Gaudete Sunday, that time in Advent when we catch a glimpse of the joy that will be here in just a few weeks; the pink candle is lit and it’s a chance for us to check in and see how our time of waiting has been. And so, with less than two weeks left before Christmas, allow me to ask one question: What are you waiting for?
Maybe it’s a relative, returning home for the holidays, or perhaps the chance to come together with family and friends. Hopefully we are not only waiting for, but even longing for, the person of Jesus Christ. He should be at the center of our watching and waiting…
But while we’re waiting, let’s take a look into that dark prison cell we heard about in the Gospel, the one where John the Baptist is sitting. What’s he waiting for? We’re not told, exactly, but we do know that he has grown weary, waiting. And finally he sends out a message for Jesus that might seem a little strange:
Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?
How do we make sense out of that question? Isn’t this the same John the Baptist who, at the Visitation, leapt in the womb of his mother as he sensed the presence of Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
Wasn’t John the first one to recognize his own cousin as the Christ when he came out to the Jordan River? John had seen Him and proclaimed with certainty: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”
Was John beginning to doubt Jesus as he sat there alone in that prison cell? I don’t think he was so much doubting Jesus, as he was beginning to doubt himself, and all that he had understood earlier about the Messiah.
John’s message was one of repentance: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And just last week we heard him say, “The axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The justice of God was coming. John preached it. He lived it. He even called King Herod to task for not living it! He held the king accountable for an adulterous affair with his brother’s wife. Now he finds himself in a prison cell, and Herod is out living the good life. Where’s the justice in that? The coming of the Messiah was supposed to change the world, to right all the wrongs, to set things straight.
And so, it is very likely that John is thinking to himself, about Jesus: “What is he waiting for?” A good question. What is He waiting for? The answer, I believe, is found in Jesus’ reply to John’s disciples:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
The Messiah had come to change the world. There was no doubt about that. And He was changing it, transforming it, making all things new. But He was not changing the world with the judgment of God as much as He was changing it with the mercy of God.
He came to open the eyes of those who had been blind to the ways of God, to bring healing to those who had been broken by sin, and to transform every aspect of our fallen nature. When God became man in Christ and came to this earth everything changed. Everything.
But let’s be fair. John was right to preach repentance, because without repentance there can be no mercy. Mercy is only available to those who are willing to receive it, those who understand that they are in need of it. And that is what Jesus is waiting for! He is holding back on the judgment required by perfect justice for the sake of complete repentance. As St. Peter says in his 2nd Letter:
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some count “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
—2 Peter 3:9
And so, finally, the question comes to us: What are we waiting for? If it is true that God wants to pour out His mercy into our lives, that He is that patient and that willing to transform us and set our hearts on fire, what are we waiting for?
As He was in the days of John the Baptist, so He is doing now: seeking to open the eyes that are blind, to heal those who are broken and in need. He is offering Himself to us here today in the Eucharist, and asking that we be totally united to Him, totally committed, totally faithful. God can transform our entire lives, if only we will let Him.
So what are we waiting for?