Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.The Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
Psalms 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
It is “Rejoice Sunday” today, and though we have just finished exams here at Creighton University, it is still just the beginning of Omaha’s cold winter. I have had negative reactions, when immediately after our teams have lost a tough game, somebody slaps me on the back and says, “Cheer up, it’s not the end of the world!” During my Theology studies, on occasion, a wonderful professor from Hungary, who was six foot five, with a deep deliberate Eastern-European voice would begin a liturgy with, “Now vee vill begin thees litourgy vit great joy.” Though it sounded in tone like a command to begin marching, there was always a sense of joy in experiencing the difference between his voice and his meaning.
The liturgy invites us to a Christian spirit of joy, even though we may not feel peppy and full of the joys of the “season.” The invitation expressed in the Entrance Antiphon encourages us to believe and hope in what is coming rather than respond immediately to whatever is happening within and around us today. It may be cold outside and perhaps inside our spirits as well. Perhaps your team lost or we lost a friend or family member. We pray well when we are aware of our truth where God is already in residence. God does not say, “Cheer up,” but rather, “The Lord is near.”
In today’s First Reading, we hear a wonderful poem of hope. The whole chapter from which this reading is taken sings of a day to come, but in the future. In those days, more reversals will be seen in the natural surroundings and at the end of this chapter, the poem continues, the faces of the people will be joyful, for the fearful and menacing threats have departed.
The people of Israel are surrounded by their enemies; they have experienced exile and abandonment. The prophet Isaiah sings to them not just to “cheer up,” but remember and then imagine and then feel trust in the God who formed them and has made promises to them.
It would be helpful for us to hear these readings as did our imprisoned Jewish sisters and brothers would have read them in the Death Camps of the Second World War. Perhaps they were read during the bitterly cold days of the winter celebration of Hanukah. Surrounded by barbed wire and the darkness of Poland’s winter, they renewed their faith and hope. “Where is God?” Their senses ask their minds about promises made. Their faith makes the reply, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted.”
The people of Israel to whom the prophet sings have asked this question often in their history and so too have we as we walk through losses and darkness. Belief is more than having notions; it is a gift to assist our living with our emotions.
This theme bends just a bit in today’s Gospel. John the Baptist is in prison and trusting the coming of the Messiah. He hears about Jesus and sends some of his disciples to ask of Jesus about His being the Waited-For. John is not asking out of doubt, but hope. In the midst of John’s darkness, he hopes for the Light and Jesus sends him back some evidence from scripture.
The blind see, the lame walk the lepers are clean, and the deaf hear; all scripturally based parts of the Messianic tradition. Jesus affirms Himself by how He fulfills the prophecies, but He also affirms John as the one who by trusting, becomes the forerunner. A great affirmation of John is spoken by Jesus at the end of our reading announcing him to be the greatest person ever born. A great affirmation is also made about us.
Greater than John the Baptist are those who, while being born of woman, are also infleshed by the teachings, the person, and the spirit of Christ. Seeing the promise fulfilled was John’s desire and life’s prayer. Seeing His followers experience their lives in Him and living, His spirit is Christ’s deep desire and eternal prayer over us.
“Say to the anxious: be strong and fear not, our God will come
to save us.” Isaiah 35
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