Today’s readings in the middle of our Advent are full of promise. They call us to Faith and Hope — and they also make me think of the poems by T.S. Eliot in the anthology we are using for our World Literature courses. Eliot’s great modernist poem “The Waste Land” portrays the modern world as a desert, dry, sterile, deadened, and also corrupt and waste-ful. Eliot does include subtle images of possible salvation – for example, his own footnote pointing out his reference to the Journey to Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24. But much of the poem fits with the line from our first reading from Isaiah, “the afflicted and the needy seek water in vain,” and also with the lines from the Gospel: “The Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.”
Like Eliot’s 1920’s, our 21st century world seems to be a “waste land” full of poverty, injustice, greed, cruelty, war, violence, fraud, deceit – full of people who are ill, hostile, vicious, despairing, starving, suffering. Today these readings call us to the Advent virtue of Hope. Isaiah says that the God of Israel will “open up rivers” and “turn the dry ground into springs of water.” The Lord will do wonderful things, and the faithful will rejoice. Here God promises: “Fear not, I will help you.” Then today’s psalm responds with praise of this great and merciful Lord, “slow to anger and of great kindness.” And back in our reading from Isaiah, we see God’s purpose: “That all may see and know, observe and understand.”
In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus cites another Old Testament prophet, Elijah, to tell his followers that his cousin John the Baptist is a great prophet for their time. These prophets promised the coming of a Redeemer. In later times, Saint John of the Cross, the great 16th century Spanish Carmelite priest, poet and mystic whose feast we celebrate today, also served as “prophet,” giving witness to God’s love. He was also a reformer and administrator of religious life, associated with St. Teresa.
In another T.S. Eliot poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the totally non-heroic Prufrock says, “I am no prophet.” No, he’s not, as he’s failed, we might say, in both Faith and Hope. Maybe because at Creighton University, especially with the work of our Cardoner Program, we hear a lot about “vocation” as a calling to a way of life, I am thinking that our Faith and Hope call each of us to be in some way a Prophet – to make visible the word of Christ’s Coming in whatever we do each day.
For us, today’s Gospel reminds us to pay attention: Christ is Coming! “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Whether in poetry or sermon, Scripture or human kindness, the word is made known to us: the Word Comes.
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