O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
If there were any two who understood that Jesus is “the only joy of every human heart,” it was the Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist. For the last two days, the Gospel has proclaimed the Visitation, recounting John’s dance within Elizabeth’s womb and Mary’s victorious song of exultation.
But thirty years later, after John has prepared the way for the Messiah, he finds himself in prison. The one who sang so faithfully of the liberation Jesus would bring is behind bars. Upon hearing the mighty deeds Jesus is working, John sends his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”1
I think so much of our lives are spent like John, looking at Jesus in our poverty and desolation, saying, “Jesus, I know that you are the only joy of my heart, the only thing that brings meaning to life. I know that you are faithful, I know that nothing is impossible for you. So why am I still imprisoned? Why haven’t you kept your promise?”
Jesus’ response to John’s disciples is one of conviction and compassion: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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.”
John, the “voice of one crying out in the desert,” knows Isaiah through and through. In this response, Jesus synthesizes four different passages from Isaiah prophesying the deeds of the Savior who is to come. One of these passages is the first part of Isaiah 61:1, “He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted.” But he doesn’t finish the verse which promises that the Messiah is sent “to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to prisoners.” Instead, Jesus says, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”2
Jesus is the Messiah who releases prisoners. But His ways are not our ways. John would not meet the one to whom he had dedicated his whole life until the two met in the Kingdom of heaven – one released from pain by a sword and the other on a cross.
When Jesus comes in a few days, he comes as the Messiah and Savior for whom our hearts so desperately long. But His plan for our liberation and healing is too marvelous for our little, fickle minds to comprehend. Sometimes He comes miraculously as He did for St. Therese’s “grace of Christmas.” But more often than not, He comes with the reminder that this world is not our home and that the holidays do not begin until heaven.
But regardless of the way that He answers our prayers, He will come. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross writes, “And when he tells me through the mouth of the prophet that he stands more faithfully at my side than my father and my mother, yea that he is love itself, then I begin to understand how rational is my trust in the arm that carries me and how foolish is my fear.” This is the radical trust to which John was invited by His savior. I think that upon hearing Jesus’ words, John danced in prison. For the only joy of his heart was here. The King’s presence makes all things bearable.
1 – This story is found in Matthew 11:2-6
2 – I learned about this from one of Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s Advent podcasts. Go give the Hobo for Christ podcast a listen!