3rd Sunday of Advent Year A – 16
Is.35:1-6, 10; Jas.5:7-10; Mt.11:2-11
Barbara Bartocci, a religious author and motivational speaker was searching for the perfect birthday card for her husband a few years ago. She came across a promising one. On the outside, it read: “Sweet heart, you are the answer to my prayers.”
Then she turned to the inside, which was inscribed like this: “You are not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently, you are the answer.”
The common theme running through today’s readings is one of joy and encouragement. The readings stress the need for patience in those awaiting the rebirth of Jesus in their hearts and lives.
They give us messages of hope—for people almost three millennia ago, for people at the beginning of the first millennium and for people today.
“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.” Today is Rejoicing Sunday. Today the candle on the wreath is pink, not purple as on the other Sundays of Advent; to express the joy felt at the nearness of the Lord. Some people seem to be happy by nature; others mournful by nature.
Three things about happiness: First, happiness is right now. We convince ourselves that life will be better when we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids are not old enough and we will be more content when they are.
After that we are frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together. The truth is there is no better time to be happy than right now.
Second, ‘If you are happy, let your face know’. Maybe we could begin to be more joyful by taking a peek in the mirror and asking ourselves: does my face look like the face of someone who has heard the good news of the Gospel, namely that I am loved unconditionally by God?
Third, joy will come to us if we set about actively trying to create it for others. If I go about my life demanding that others carry me rather than seeking to carry them; feeding off others rather than feeding them; demanding that others meet my needs rather than trying to meet theirs, joy will never find me no matter how hard I party or try to crank up good cheer
Could John the Baptist have doubted? Why did John the Baptist send from his prison cell that urgent question to Jesus: “Are you He that is to come?” Hadn’t John recognized our Lord as the Messiah several months previously, at the Jordan, when he proclaimed Him publicly as the Lamb of God?
Did John, faced with almost certain death under Herod, have doubts or second thoughts about Jesus? Some say no, John only asked the question for the sake of his followers, who needed confirmation of their faith from Christ himself.
Instead of criticizing Jesus or breaking away from him, John approached Jesus through his disciples. The disciples asked Jesus whether he was the one to come or if they should look for another. John may have had his doubts, but he was open to hearing Jesus say that he was, indeed, the one! John must have recognized the scriptural allusions behind Jesus’ answer.
Isaiah 29:18 speaks of the deaf hearing and the blind seeing. Isaiah 35:6 speaks of the lame leaping like a deer. Isaiah 26:19 speaks of the dead becoming alive. Isaiah 61:1 speaks of good news for the oppressed, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners.
These were signs of the Messiah’s coming. Jesus could have rebuked John for his doubts, but instead offered him a blessing. Jesus had not lived up to John’s expectations, but John did not allow that to be a stumbling block.
Long ago, a rabbi was said to have knocked at heaven’s door and confronted the Messiah: “Why are you taking so long? Don’t you know humankind is waiting for you”? “It is not Me they are expecting,” answered the Messiah.
“Some are waiting for wealth and riches; others for power to lord over others or for a kingdom of their own fantasies. No, they are waiting for the realization of their own foolish dreams, not the dream of the Messiah for them.”
The rabbi came back to earth, gathered his disciples and forbade them to despair: “Let us begin to dream God’s dream for us – our true waiting begins!”
From a theological perspective, this entire episode helps us to understand how the experience of a faith crisis can play a role in our spiritual and emotional development. If John the Baptist, even after having had a direct encounter with Jesus the Messiah, could question, doubt and revise his faith, then so can we.
If disillusionment is a necessary precondition for a more resilient faith, then we, too, must be open to its possibilities. In moments of doubt, despair and disillusionment, we are, indeed, in good company.
Occasional doubts – even horrifying doubts – are one thing, but doubts that persist in the face of every Biblical remedy demand careful attention.
Let us remember the truth that all our Christian dogmas are based on our trust and faith in the divinity of Jesus who taught them, and on his divine authority by which he authorized the Church to teach what he taught.
It is up to us to learn our faith in depth, so that God will be able to dispel our doubts. In today’s readings, the recurring word is JOY. What is joy? How can we reclaim Joy?
Simple explanation is in the word itself. J for Jesus: God First. O for others: others come second. Y for you: you come last. What are you going to do this week to bring joy into your life? Choose one seed to plant – gentleness or forgiveness – and tend it patiently in prayer and practice. Amen.