“Rejoice in the Lord always” are the opening words of our liturgy this weekend.
Through the readings we are invited to consider the theme of “futurility.”
Something very good is going to happen, but we are to wait with patience. Rejoicing while waiting is not easy of course.
As with the First Reading last weekend, there is in our First Reading this
weekend a reversal of the natural. The desert is going to be fruitfully rich
some day. The physically challenged will be healed, some day. The fearful
will be encouraged to trust in that “some day” which will reveal the glory
We are invited to wait in hope, not just for Santa, or presents, but for
the “some day” when we will rejoice even more that we are alive in body and
spirit. Our joyful “some day” is always God’s work and we wait in watchful
expectation for our own coming more alive to God’s coming into our deserts.
Each “this day” is one day closer to that “some day.”
Often in Advent we hear of the nation, Israel, being promised a “day” or
time when they will return to the land of the Covenant. The “Good News” is
a cancellation of the old. Exiled from their Promised Land, they grieve their
condition. Isaiah authors a poem of hope which we hear in our First Reading.
The people know well the desolate condition they are in and the poem sings
of how the desolate nature of the desert will be changed and so will their
own. They know the curse of physical infirmities and those are going to be
removed. The poem ends with a wonderful imaginative re-entering into
Jerusalem with much singing and celebration.
The cause for all this joy is that the Lord who had sent them packing into
exile is coming to vindicate and restore their covenantal condition and relationship.
God is seen as the ever-lasting, ever-loving caretaker. As the sun seems
to disappear and the rains disappoint at times, people of faith wait for
God’s warmth and grace to bring about their fruitfulness.
From last-Sunday’s Gospel to the Gospel for today, John the Baptist has moved
from the Jordan to prison. He sends two disciples to check out Jesus and
whether or not Jesus is the awaited-for messiah. It was not that John doubted,
but rather was surprised to hear all that Jesus, whom he had baptized, was
performing as signs. His sending the disciples with the big question allows
Jesus to say simply, “Check it out.” Jesus then makes reference to the prophetic
poem we hear from Isaiah in the First Reading. The blind see, the lepers
are cleansed, the dead are raised, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the mute
speak and they become evidence for John’s disciples and Matthew’s readers
that Jesus is the Messiah.
The Gospel ends with Jesus speaking to the crowds of the person of John the
Baptist. Again Jesus is saying “check it out.” Jesus asks the
crowd what did they go out to check out, a wind-shaken straw? Did they find
somebody dressed up in finery? No, they found a prophet of whom Scripture
refers as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Jesus then states that John is the greatest ever born in the natural way.
Ah, but Jesus twists this a little bit. Even greater, Jesus continues, than
John the Baptist is the least one born of the Spirit in the “kingdom of heaven.”
This last sentence is the cause for our great joy.
John sent his disciples to check it out and would hear of the signs and teachings,
first hand. Those born of the Spirit are believers whose lives are molded
by their deep belief in the Good News. John came before and believed what
he heard and saw and died for his beliefs. WE are the after-comers who live
while waiting to see and hear the fulfillment of the promises. Our lives
are molded as well by the Jesus Who continues giving life and encouragement
to keep “checking it out.”
This waiting for Christmas, this waiting for our permanent conversion, this
waiting for the reunion of the desert parts of our lives and our world’s
condition, this waiting seems to make us feel, well, impatient! I was
seated recently in a plane waiting for takeoff, but it wasn’t happening according
to my schedule. After a few hours, well, minutes, the nice Flight Attendant
explained the problem and thanked us for our patience. Ten minutes later
she again thanked us for our patience. I thought to myself that she was thanking
those others who were patient, because I was not feeling patient at all!
Virtue, like the virtue of Patience is not always accompanied by the feeling
of that virtue; if it were then I think we would be more virtuous. Waiting
for the Good News to be lived out in our lives, waiting for our deserts to
bloom, waiting for our exiles and separations to be healed, are not always
accompanied by the feelings of faith, hope and charity. Feelings come and
go; how we live the virtues is how the Good News comes alive for us.
Rejoice then that this Reflection is almost completed; rejoice that you have
waited to see if there is anything worth waiting for here. Our joy is that
God waits patiently for us, not to be perfectly virtuous, but available to
God’s advances and so become “the least in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Say to the anxious- be strong and fear not, our God will come to save us.” Isaiah 35, 4