This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, when in the middle of the season of waiting and fasting, we have a respite. We move from the penitential and reflective purple to the joy of pink, and whilst you might expect the theme to be Mary, it’s actually St John the Baptist.
John the Baptist can sometimes get a bad press! After all, he’s not exactly polite nor does he hold back in what he says, or how he says it! In the end, that’s what gets him killed. His words convey more a sense of warning than anything else. Warm and fuzzy he is not!
But he is about renewal, and restoration. These are both things we hope and long for, knowing how broken and hurting our world is. Healing and wholeness are things that we strive for all the time. But the processes of renewal, restoration, and healing are not (if we are honest) comfortable. When it is inner healing or restoration (personal or societal), it often involves painful honesty with ourselves, and physical healing takes time and frequently hurts! It is not, in our modern use of the word, “comfortable”.
We tend to think of “comfortable” as being warm and fuzzy, but that’s not where the word comes from. Comfort comes from the Latin cum and fortis, meaning with strength, with courage, with bravery.
So when we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah saying “comfort my people”, or the words of John the Baptist “make straight the way for the Lord” and calling us to leave behind those things which harm us as individuals and as societies, it may not initially make sense to us as “comfort”. And respite and joy (from my opening words on Gaudete) may not be words you would associate here.
However that is what comes to us in Christ, and this is what John points towards. Jesus Christ is the Sun of Righteousness who brings healing upon his wings. He is the light which chases away all darkness. He is the one who will restore, renew and reconcile all things in himself, and has already begun that process through his death and resurrection.
Gaudete Sunday – rejoicing in the midst of the darkness, for a light we cannot yet fully see – is a reminder of the now-and-not-yet in which we still live. Celebrating the presence of Christ with us, God born as one of us; and yet still awaiting his coming in glory, when all will be made right. Be comforted! Take courage! Be strong in the Lord! For your God is coming to bring light and healing to this beautiful but broken world.