Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete . . . Dominus enim prope est. [Rejoice in the Lord always: I say it again, rejoice . . . for the Lord is near.] Saint Paul here sums up what we hear in the scriptures of this day: Isaiah’s announcing of the glad tidings for us – liberty to the captives, release of prisoners – our liberty, our release from sin and sadness. If we wish to accept it, of course.
John the Baptist today does not speak of joy explicitly, but in his statement “I am not the Christ!” he shows us how to find joy. While none of us (I presume) walks around saying “I am the Messiah,” there are many ways in which we forget the truth that we are, in fact, not only not the Messiah, but that we desperately need Him! Often, it is mostly among those who are struggling to lead good and holy lives, who seek to do the Lord’s will, that this temptation is greatest! It is so easy to say: “I will do this or that for God!” (And the desire is indeed good). But we forget then the most important truth: it is not what I do for God, but what I allow God to do in me and through me, that makes us holy and joyful. So if the Baptist, who, of all people (Jesus Himself said John the Baptist was the greatest) might have had a claim on calling himself the Messiah (he was like a rock star in his own time, and people would have followed him), thinks it’s worth saying “I am not the Christ,” perhaps it will be of some spiritual value for us to imitate him. We can more easily enter into joy once we have placed ourselves totally in the line of grace.
In addition to the joy, both in word and in color, which helps us understand this moment in our Advent journey, there is a word I would like to suggest, a word for prayer and contemplation which expresses where we stand in all of Advent, of course, but perhaps most particularly at this moment. That word is maranatha. Many will recognize this from hymns and prayers. It is an Aramaic phrase coming to us as one word in a Greek transliteration. This fact leads, for some, to confusion as to its meaning, and, for others, to an entrance into the mystery of Advent.
Maranatha could be either Máran atha, which would mean “Our Lord has/is come” or, prescinding from the complicated scholarly linguistic debate on this point, if you presume that the original was Marána tha, then it would mean “Come, our Lord!” The first is a creedal statement, one which brings great comfort. Our Lord is already come, has established His Kingdom (this is certainly true), even if we recognize that this Kingdom is not yet completely manifested in the world (or in us!). The second is a great prayer of expectation and desire. Both positions have both spiritual value and linguistic credibility.
Does not, however, the brilliance of God in His inspiration allow us to see in the apparent confusion of interpretations both of these great truths – the reality of the Lord’s presence and the need to express our desire for His Coming? Is this not what Advent is – both a celebration of the fact that we live already in His Kingdom (if He had not already been born, there would be no Christmas!) but that our identity is also found in our longing for that Kingdom, for its complete manifestation in the world and, most urgently, in ourselves?
May the joyful, growing, gently insistent rhythm of Advent, bursting out for just this one day into joyful color, together with the faithful proclamation and the heartfelt yearning of Maranatha be for us the definitive answer to the Great Question of the excited child in each of us: Are we there yet? How much longer? Rejoice, the Lord is near!
Prepared for Aleteia by theCanonry of Saint Leopold. Click here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.