We read in the gospel today that ‘a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people’ (Luke 3.15). It was a time when they were wondering whether the Messiah might have already come, whether he was hidden in their midst and was about to make himself known. And people were already beginning to reform their lives, in the expectation that at any moment the Christ might be revealed right next to them.
What power is hidden in that simple phrase about a feeling of expectancy. They believed that God could and would do great things. And of course, where there is great faith there can be great works. There is a challenge to us in this. As Advent progresses and Christmas draws near, we are reminded of the importance of believing that God is about in our world. We need to expect that we can see the hand of God at work among us. We need to have hearts and minds open to God. God can do great works without our faith, but with our faith we can not only see more of what he is doing, but be changed by it as we respond to his presence among us.
The key to the gospel today is that wonderful anticipation that the Messiah is about to be revealed, indeed perhaps might be in their very midst already. Can you think of anything more powerful in encouraging people to turn their lives around? Imagine discovering that the long-awaited Christ had been in your workplace, your home, your shopping mall, your street. But of course, that is exactly the situation for us today. Christ is among us and walks in our world. He told us that he would be found among the naked, the hungry, the sick and imprisoned. We know that he is with us in the breaking of the bread, when we share the Eucharist and the mystery of his presence coming to us in communion. This, by the way, is the same Mass and the same presence, in the grandest of cathedrals and in the most impoverished of slums.
Christ about to be revealed among us: for some, this might bring feelings of guilt, but that would not be the right response. Always there is room in our life for penitence, but part of the purpose of penitence is the desire to live lives that are more worthy of God’s love for us.
As the feeling of expectancy grows among us, let us remember this: that God loves us and that this is why Christ comes among us. As St John writes, ‘Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God … We love, because he first loved us’ (1 John 4.15, 19). We are responding to God’s initiative of love.
No wonder there is theme of rejoicing this Gaudete Sunday. How could we not rejoice after that first reading from Zephaniah 3.114-18, with its incredible image of God dancing with joy and rejoicing out of love for his people. This is no curmudgeonly God. This reveals to us the true God who is generous, loving and always there for his people, over whom he rejoices.
Fr Terry Tastard is parish priest (pastor) of Holy Trinity, Brook Green, in the Hammersmith area of London. His new book Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, from religious booksellers and from the publisher.