For Gaudete Sunday and Third Week of Advent
What comes to your mind when you think of Advent?
Hope, patience, waiting, expectation, preparation, peace and love, and of course, Christmas are the most common Advent memes. The idea is to reflect, pray, and live these virtues to prepare for our Lord’s coming, at Christmas.
Now, what about vindication?
Vindication is not one of the themes that comes to people’s minds this time of year, yet divine vindication is a strong but latent theme in the readings leading up to December 17th (the first day of the “O-Antiphons”).
The Mystery of Divine Vindication
The word “vindication” appeared three times in the readings this Advent Season, twice on the Friday of the Second Week, and then on Gaudete Sunday in the reading from the Prophet Isaiah:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you. (Isaiah 35:4)
The Gospel reading from the preceding Friday ends with Christ’s words:
Wisdom is vindicated by her works. (Matthew 11:19)
In these passages, who is being vindicated, for what, and why? There appears to be two possible subjects to whom it could apply: prophets or sinners. I’d like to suggest that it could even be both, simultaneously, if we apply it to ourselves.
If we honestly face the reality of our human condition, we’re sinners in need of redemption. Sin affects every aspect of our lives: our thoughts, our words, our actions, our relationships, our world. As much as we may struggle to overcome it, we cannot pull ourselves up out of the mire. We cannot redeem ourselves.
The paradox sets in when we realize that on the one hand we do not, of our own accord, merit or deserve this redemption; yet on the other hand, it’s not all our fault. We’re born into it. Our world and everything in it is affected by sin, with or without us.
The passage from Isaiah reveals God who comes to save us from this state of sin as “He who comes with vindication.” That, in part, answers who is being vindicated and for what, but not why. The answer though a mystery – unfathomable – can only be explained by Love. God wants it, always wanted it for us. And that can only be explained by love, God’s deep unfathomable love for you – that’s the Lord who comes.
The first prophecy of the Lord who comes to vindicate us from our state of sin comes from God himself (thus God himself is a prophet). After the fall in the Garden, when God speaks to Adam and Eve, he condemns not Adam and Eve (made in God’s image and likeness), but the serpent (i.e., Sin). Here God promises a redeemer who will vindicate humanity with respect to sin, in the text we call the Protoevangelion or “First Gospel.”
I will put enmity between you (serpent) and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
He will strike at your head,
while you strike at His heel. (Genesis 3:15)
From then on, all the prophets’ words are consistent with this three-fold pronouncement: the condemnation of sin, the ultimate consequences for sin, the promise of a redeemer.
The Sacred Liturgy hearkens these word of vindication more intensely during Advent – even cosmically. “People Look East!” The Hymn directs our attention toward the Orient, to orient our lives toward Christ, the Rising Sun. Do you notice the colors of the sunrise these days, when the hues on the horizon are predominantly violet and rose, the colors of Advent?
The Sacred Hymn “Rorate Caeli” translates, “Let dew come down from heaven above, and the clouds rain down justice” (Isaiah 45:8). Again, the Prophet calls on God’s creation, the Cosmos, to announce the coming of the Redeemer who mysteriously appears like the morning dew fall, and brings divine vindication, raining down justice.
There still seems to be something missing here. Vindication – i.e., being justified – still seems to demand something worthy of justification on the part of the one being justified, right? I don’t intend to involve myself in the Theology of Atonement here, although that certainly belongs to this topic. Rather, I want to point out how we, like the prophets, bear witness to Christ through living the virtues of Advent. By living the virtues of hope, patience, waiting, expectation, and preparation during the Season of Advent, we look forward to vindication, because we look to Christ.
The Gospel for Gaudete Sunday (Cycle A) presents us with John the Baptist — the last and greatest of the prophets – in prison. He is imprisoned on account of speaking truth. He was not merely “speaking truth to power” as some might suggest; He speaks God’s truth, the truth of divine justice, and the truth of the Redeemer’s advent.
On account of his insatiable desire for Truth Itself, he suffers. Did he bring this on himself? I can hardly say so. Like any prophet, worth his salt, John was duped! He let himself be duped.
With his head swirling with perplexing questions, waiting to die in prison, John sends messengers to ask Jesus for a hint of consolation: is He the one who is to come, or should they are to wait for another. Truly, as a prophet, John’s words are meant to prompt a word of Good News for all of us, Yet, one cannot help but detect John silently asking, in his heart, “What about me?”
Will John be ransomed?
Jesus’s answer from the Prophet Isaiah is a resounding “Yes” to John’s first, direct question: “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.” In other words, my works ought to vindicate me, he suggests to John.
Indirectly, by finishing with “AND blessed is he who does not take offense at me, Jesus clearly but latently says to John, although it’s hard, know that “I still love you,” and “You too will see my redemption.”