Gaudate Sunday marks the halfway point of the Advent season. With the church and priest decked out in the color rose, the Church makes the shift from the second coming of Christ at the end of the time to His first coming in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. We’ve spent the past two weeks preparing our hearts for the Last Judgment, when Christ will come and judge us according to the lives we have chosen to live. With Gaudate Sunday, we switch focus and begin to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus on Christmas morning.
Today’s reading comes from the beginning of the Gospel of John. Rather than providing us with one of the traditional nativity stories from Matthew or Luke, we hear about the beginning of Christ’s public life and ministry. This is why Christ came. He came to give sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, and joy to the downtrodden. Christ came to bring salvation to the world. And John came to make straight the path of the Lord.
John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the desert. He baptized with water, knowing that Jesus Christ would come baptizing with fire and the Spirit. As John himself said, he wasn’t even worthy to untie his sandal straps. And that’s quite the assertion. On a practical level, if someone was to take off their sandals, a servant would carry them. When John said that he was unworthy to untie Christ’s sandal straps, he was saying that he wasn’t even worthy to be his servant. Jesus is God, and John is not. Jesus is divine, and John is a fallen human being. John knew that he was unworthy. But that is not all there is to John’s statement about Christ’s sandal straps.
In Jewish tradition, the removal of a man’s sandals meant that he was unworthy or unwilling to become the new bridegroom of a widow. When John said that he was unworthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, he also meant that he was unworthy and unwilling to supplant Jesus Christ as the true Bridegroom (St. Gregory the Great). Israel had often been depicted as a bride, and often not a very faithful one. She had thrown herself into the sinful arms of the pagan nations, but then the true Bridegroom came to rescue her, and not just her, but the world. When Jesus came to earth, He came as the Bridegroom willing to give His life for His Bride.
The Church is His Bride. We are meant to be united with God, the lover of our souls. Christ came for us. He took on human flesh, took our sins upon Himself, becoming poor so that we might enjoy all the riches of heaven. This is what John proclaimed to all. The Bridegroom has come, and He wants to love us. We might be unworthy as the poor, sinful beings that we are, but Christ’s love makes us worthy. Christ’s love makes us lovable. And that is a great cause for joy!
Shannon Whitmore currently lives in northwestern Virginia with her husband, Andrew, and their two children, John and Felicity. When she is not caring for her children, Shannon enjoys writing for her blog, Love in the Little Things, reading fiction, and freelance writing. She has experience serving in the areas of youth ministry, religious education, sacramental preparation, and marriage enrichment.
Featured Image Credit: Dimitri Conejo Sanz, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/144-mosaico-bautismo-jesus