Do you like surprises? Or do you prefer to know what’s going to happen before hand?
I can say, without a doubt, that I am in the second group of people. Whether it’s company coming over,an exam at school, or just the weather, I always want to be prepared. I guess I get that from being a Boy Scout. I like having the house picked up for guests. I like walking into an exam with confidence. I like knowing when it’s going to rain, so that I can bring the proper jacket.
Surprises can fill us with joy, or fill us with dread. Of course, the difference lies in the nature of the surprise. Is it something good? Or something bad? Case in point: Finding the toilet overflowing in the mother’s room was definitely not a good surprise. But we’re fixing it! Finally!
Now, many of us are already having family gatherings this month, hosting guests and fixing oh, so much food. And inevitably, there are going to be surprises. Hopefully not like overflowing toilets. Hopefully not like cousin Eddy showing up at Clark Griswold’s house and staying an extra two weeks. Or the neighbors’ dogs bursting into the kitchen and devouring the Christmas turkey, like in A Christmas Story. Or how about showing up in Paris for your family vacation, only to realize that KEVIN! was left home alone?
Still love surprises? Hey, I think they’re hilarious as long as they’re not happening to me.
Now, imagine for a moment that you have a very special guest coming over? I won’t venture a guess as to who that might be, so just imagine the most honorable, beloved guest you can think of. What would you do to prepare for his/her visit?
- Clean the house, maybe decorate
- Make food, that means you have to go shopping
- Stock up on drinks
- Rake leaves, mow lawn
- Get your hair cut
- Put on your best clothes
Now, what if you only had one day’s notice to do all of that? Nearly impossible, right?
Well, I think you know where this is headed—we DO have a great guest coming over! And his name is Jesus. And he’s coming to save mankind from their sins. This is a great thing. It’s the best thing. It’s the most awesome and wonderful thing that could ever happen—God becoming man, and living among us! God saving his people! We’re going to need more than a day to get ready.
And God knows that. So, in preparation for his coming to earth, he decided to give us ADVANCE NOTICE! And he does this by sending folks ahead of him. These folks we call the prophets.
Ever flip thru your Bible and notice all the titles in the first half of the book? We recognize words like Genesis and Exodus, but then we get a bunch of strange names, and some of their sections are very short (only a page or two), and some are quite long. These, my friends, are the prophets. And there’s a very good reason they are in your Bible.
What is a prophet?
- One who speaks on God’s behalf.
- Not necessarily one who can tell the future. If he does tell the future, it is because God is speaking thru him.
The prophets all lived before Jesus Christ walked the earth. And the prophets were studied and taught by the Jewish religion for centuries before Jesus. And they all gave warnings to God’s people, mostly telling them to repent from their unjust ways. But they occasionally said other things, mysterious things. They would say things that seemed to predict some future event, and many of the prophets gave odd details that didn’t seem relevant at first.
But then a wonderful thing did happen. Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. And when he had grown up, he started calling disciples and teaching them about mercy, happiness, and charity. Jesus became increasingly popular and posed a threat to the religious and state authorities, and so they pursued him and eventually turned the crowds against him, until he was hung on a cross to die. He was buried, and three days later, he rose from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, and then sent the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, emboldening them to go to the ends of the earth, forgiving sins and preaching salvation thru Jesus.
All these things were predicted by those ancient prophets. These are the “loose ends” in their prophecies that didn’t seem to have been fulfilled. And, in a statistically impossible way, these prophecies were all fulfilled in one man—Jesus Christ.
You see, we Christians look back on the prophets of old and recognize that they were all giving us this advance notice that we needed. They were warning us that God, the greatest guest ever, was coming to our home, earth. They were telling us to get ready.
Last in the line of these prophets was the man we hear from today, as well as last week: John the Baptist. John is a fascinating figure, because not only did he announce the coming of Jesus Christ, he also fulfilled some of the prophecies of the prophets before him.
John the Baptist fulfills the prophets’ prophecies:
- Isaiah: “A voice cries out:In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!”
- Malachi: “Now I am sending my messenger— he will prepare the way before me… He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the Levites, Refining them like gold or silver, that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness.” –that’s the baptism John was performing.
Moreover, John the Baptist echoes and sums up all of the prophets who announce the coming of the Christ.
- Micah: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah least among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel…”
- Zephaniah: “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.”
- Hosea: “out of Egypt I called my son.”
- Isaiah: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”
John’s announcing of the Christ is a recap of all those prophets who came before him.
Furthermore, everything John does precedes what Jesus is going to do.
- John the Baptist is born to a woman who is thought to be unable to bear a child.
- Jesus is born to a virgin,for whom, for obvious reasons, it is thought impossible to bear a child.
- John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth, announcing his joy at the presence of the Lord.
- Jesus leaps in the womb of Mary.
- John the Baptist declares that he is not the Christ, and that there is one greater, coming after him, of whom he is unworthy.
- Jesus indeed comes to the Jordan to be baptized.
- John the Baptist baptizes with water.
- Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
- John the Baptist is killed for speaking the truth.
- Jesus is killed for speaking the truth.
Even though John denies being a prophet, he is doing so out of humility. He is the culmination of all the prophets before him.
Even though John denies being Elijah, he is the representation of Elijah, as Jesus clearly points out in Matthew’s gospel.
For all these reasons, one may assume that John the Baptist is the last prophet, announcing the coming of the Lord. But I would propose that the line of prophets has not ended—it has exploded. We now have, on the earth at this moment, up to 2 billion prophets, charged with the same mission as John the Baptist. I am talking about every Christian walking the earth. We all have the duty, no, the mission, of announcing the coming of Jesus Christ. And, as deacon mentioned last week, there are many comings of the Lord:
- His past coming at Christmas
- His future coming on the Last Day, at the Last Judgment
- His present coming, in the Eucharist, at each and every Mass, right here on this altar!
We all are called to be prophets in our day, telling the story of Jesus to those we encounter. Jesus is the message, and the story is the one I just told you. We call this story the kerygma, the announcing of Christ’s birth, passion, death and resurrection. It is the central story of Christianity, and it is a story the world desperately needs to hear.
And how should we announce it? This Gaudete Sunday is a reminder to us that we are to announce the gospel with JOY! We ought to be joyful that our God, who created us, has also come into the world to save us. This is the central thesis of Pope Francis’ document, Evangelii Gaudium—to be a people of joy, attracting new believers, who see us as having a joy that is not of this world. And joy is attractive! It sells itself!
So, this Sunday, let the gospel—the good news—be your source of joy. I shall say it again, REJOICE!
 Matthew 17:12