Rejoice in Darkness

Rejoice in Darkness

Matthew 11:2-11

And so today, on Gaudette Sunday, we rejoice. We lift our eyes from the darkening time around Advent. We lift our eyes to the coming of Jesus Christ in that manger on Christmas morning, holding on to that central truth that central knowledge that he is always with us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Please sit.

Today, my friends, is Gaudete. Sunday gaudette is Latin for rejoice. It is a moment during Advent when we relax a little where the deep shade of purple that we wear at Mass relaxes a little bit into the rose that you see Father Josiah wearing today. I think it suits him beautifully, doesn’t it? It’s not pink, it is rose. It’s an important differentiation.

Advent is a period as we walk towards Christ coming, being made man in the crib, being born in that stable, is a time when if you’ve been following Father Josiah’s writings in the pew sheet, we should examine our scripture, we should examine our prayer life, we should examine our relationship with God. It is a period of penance. It is a time where we reflect, where we fast, where we consider our own lives in the pattern of Christ. But today we take the foot off the accelerator a little bit, we relax slightly and we lift our heads from scripture and from prayer, and we look into the world to see what Jesus is doing around us.

It is a moment to remember that Jesus works in the world around us. And that’s really what’s going on in this conversation between the followers of Jesus and the followers of John in our Gospel.

We start off in this 11th chapter of Matthew. John in his prison. Well, let’s deal with that first. Why is John in prison? John was in prison because Herod, who of course was the ruler of Galilee, that place in Israel, Pilate, of course, down in Jerusalem, and they didn’t like one another, but they found common ground in condemning Jesus at Easter. But that’s a whole other story.

Herod, that Herod was not happy with John, and the reason he wasn’t happy with him was because Herod had gone back to Rome. And while he was in Rome, he had seen his brother’s wife and he thought that she was a bit of all right and he thought that he was going to have her.

And so he did. He took her back to Galilee with him. He pinched his brother’s wife and he married his sister in law. That is not a good thing. And John called him out for it.

John said, this is not right, you are not doing the right thing here. And of course, John was a prophet. And prophets do two things. They are heralds of God’s message and they speak truth to power. Now we see that when Jesus is asking the people, who did you go out into the wilderness to see?

Was it a courtier? A courtier, of course. Somebody to be found in palaces, who flatters kings, who flatters the rulers. No, you went to see a prophet. A prophet, somebody who speaks truth to power.

That’s exactly what John did. And of course it got him in awful trouble, in fact ultimately into fatal trouble. So John and his disciples find themselves in a pretty dark place. John is a child of the desert. He grew up in the wide open spaces of the desert and now he finds himself confined to a dark cell, quite literally from the light into the darkness.

And it is in these moments that I think we probably question our faith and we can probably understand John in this moment better than we can at any other. I am sure that every single one of you has faced darkness in your life and you have called out to God and said where are you? But it is in those moments of darkness, in those moments of pain and of hurt that perhaps we can come closer to understanding God in the world. John sends his disciples to go to Jesus to ask him are you the one who we are waiting for or have we got to wait for somebody else?

It’s impatient. Now I can see John in his cell and his followers, his disciples saying to John, this is dreadful, this is, you know, we are people of God. You are doing God’s work and here you are in a cell in darkness. It is not going the way that you want it to go. And I can see John thinking, you know what, these people are never going to understand what this is about unless I send them to Jesus so that they can see for themselves what is going on. John doesn’t send them to Jesus because he has lost his faith or because he doesn’t see what Jesus is doing in the world. He sends them so that they can see for themselves what Jesus is doing. That’s the important word in this week’s gospel, what Jesus is doing in the world. Go back and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see again. The lame walk lepers are cleansed. The dead hear and the dead are raised to life. And the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.

Jesus is telling John’s disciples that when our faith is in its darkest place, the thing to do is to lift your head and look at his work in the world, look and see what is going on around you and there will always be a reason to shut your vision down to just the bad things. And our society encourages us to do that.

How often do we turn on the news? How often do we open a newspaper? How often do we doom scroll through Twitter and just focus on the bad things? Jesus is saying to John’s disciples look up and see what is happening.

I’ve had a very personal experience of that in the last week. Last Friday, my cat Abby died. She’s been with me for 14 years. When I moved to Australia and I found myself completely on my own and very lonely and upset, she wandered into my garden in Melbourne, this little stray, not even six months old. We did our best to find who she belonged to, but she didn’t belong to anybody. And so I always say that she rescued me.

She brought me back to life and I brought her back from Australia with me and she’s been with us ever since. She died last Friday. And I cried hugely and all I could see was the loss of this support that I’d had in my life.

And then on Thursday, my dog Sophie died.

She’s been with me for 15 years. And for the next 24 hours, all I could see was the lack of them in my life. I could see darkness and I couldn’t see hope around me at all. And I shared this news on Twitter because lots of people who know me know how important my animals are to me. And person after person after person after person reached out to me to say that they loved me, that they understood my pain and was there anything that they could do in that moment of pain and darkness that I’ve experienced this week.

I looked up and there was God’s love in the world, shown through the miracle of love in one another. And that’s how God operates in the world. That’s how Jesus operates. That is a difference between John and Jesus.

John did not proclaim the Good News. He proclaimed death and destruction. He proclaimed the ending of all things if we did not repent. But he pointed to the coming of Jesus. And Jesus came not to end things, but to heal things.

He came to love us back into a good relationship with God. That love is most clearly shown through other people in the world.

But here’s the thing. If you don’t look for that love, if you don’t ask for that love, if you’re not open to that love, working in your life and seeing it in other people, even when you are in pain, then you shut the door to it.

One of the hardest things that we are called to do by Jesus is open our hearts when we are in pain.

In Advent, we often don’t have Jesus in the crib we put Him in on Christmas Eve just before he is born. I don’t like that. And so Jesus is always in the nativity scene, wherever I am, because we are never without Him. There is never a place so dark that his love is not there with us. There is never a situation so bad that his hand is not in ours.

There is never a moment where we call on his love that he doesn’t answer.

And so today, on Gaudette Sunday, we rejoice. We lift our eyes from the darkening time around Advent. We lift our eyes to the coming of Jesus Christ in that manger on Christmas morning, holding on to that central truth that central knowledge that he is always with us.

Rejoice, my brothers and sisters, for Jesus Christ loves you and he will take you home. Amen.