Third Sunday of Advent – A

Readings: Is 35:1-6,10; Ps 146:6-10; Jam 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

“REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS! THE LORD IS NEAR.”

When Einstein fled Nazi Germany, he came to America and bought an old two-story house within walking distance of Princeton University. There he entertained some of the most distinguished people of his day and discussed with them issues as far ranging as physics to human rights.

But Einstein had another frequent visitor. She was not, in the world’s eyes, an important person like his other guests. She was a ten-year-old girl named Emmy. Emmy heard that a very kind man who knew a lot about mathematics had moved into her neighborhood. Since she was having trouble with her fifth-grade arithmetic, she decided to visit the man down the block and see if he would help her with her problems. Einstein was very willing and explained everything to her so that she could understand it. He also told her she was welcome to come anytime she needed help.

A few weeks later, one of the neighbors told Emmy’s mother that Emmy was often seen entering the house of the world-famous physicist. Horrified, she told her daughter that Einstein was a very important man, whose time was very valuable, and he couldn’t be bothered with the problems of a little schoolgirl. And then she rushed over to Einstein’s house, and when Einstein answered the door, she started trying to blurt out an apology for her daughter’s intrusion – for being such a bother. But Einstein cut her off. He said, “She has not been bothering me! When a child finds such joy in learning, then it is my joy to help her learn! Please don’t stop Emmy from coming to me with her school problems. She is welcome in this house anytime.”

Yes, if it is joy for us to welcome Jesus into our hearts today, then it is Jesus’ joy to welcome us into his Father’s house at the end of times.

We are in the Holy Season of Advent and it is basically a penitential period. And therefore, the color of the vestments, as in Lent, is purple or violet. It is a time when we are invited through prayer and fasting or some other form of self-denial to prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas by a genuine experience of repentance and renewal. However, in Advent as in Lent, the Church cannot refrain from ‘jumping the gun,’ so to speak, by anticipating, if only briefly, the coming mood of celebration.

Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. In the tradition of the Liturgical calendar, the 3rd Sunday in Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday.” ‘Gaudete’ means ‘rejoice’ in Latin. It comes from the first word of today’s Entrance antiphon. Having passed the midpoint of Advent, our joy gets more and more intense as we advance in our journey of faith. The spirit of joy that begins this week comes from the words of St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” This joyful spirit is marked by the third candle of our Advent wreath, which is ‘rose colored,’ and the ‘rose colored’ vestments are often used at the Eucharist, because they represent a lightening of the dark violet of the rest of the penitential season of Advent. They remind us of the color of the sky at the very brink of morning, when the sun is just beginning to come up. The horizon takes on a pale rose color that gradually gets redder and brighter as the sun rises. For faithful Christians, life is like a “long sunrise,” and death is the entrance into the bright,“everlasting day” of eternal life. This is the reason why this Sunday is also called “Rose Sunday.”

The liturgical texts of this Third Sunday of Advent are about the coming of the Messiah and they are a hymn of joy. In the First Reading the prophet Isaiah announces that he will come; In the Gospel Reading the Evangelist Matthew tells us that he has come; And in the Second Reading the Apostle James tells us that he will come again. All the three Scripture Readings give the message of hope that fills us with joy. Joy is the theme of today and therefore we gladly say,“Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.”

“REJOICE WITH JOYFUL SONG! HERE IS YOUR GOD, HE COMES TO SAVE YOU.” In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we have a Messianic prophesy and it is bursting at the seams with joy. It echoes the anticipation of God’s chosen people. The Jews in Exile are experiencing the harshness of God’s anger. In the midst of catastrophe, Isaiah proclaims hope and it gives us the vision of what this joy, this salvation will look like. Isaiah is particularly moving and beautiful in the imagery that he uses to portray the coming of our God. Israel´s return from exile reflects a second Exodus, a deliverance whereby God ‘comes with vindication.’ The Almighty has ransomed his people again. Isaiah depicts the joyful advent of the Lord as a healing, transforming event that affects both creation and humankind. The healing of the parched land and the blooming of the desert express the newness and glory that the advent of God would bring. In particular we have the images of physical healing that God will come to bring – once more the weak hands and feeble knees will be made strong, the blind will see again, the deaf will hear again, the lame will walk again and the dumb will speak again. There will be no more sorrow or mourning because our God is coming to take all that away. Through all these liberating actions, the glory of the Lord is being revealed for all to see. These actions are referenced in today’s gospel as Matthew seeks to identify and explain the saving and liberating purpose of Jesus’ Messiah-ship.

We come now to the Second Reading. Those farmers among you will appreciate James’s image of the farmer. While he is waiting patiently for the rain he does not sit on his hands and do nothing. He continues working the farm as he gazes with hope at the sky. So it is to be with us. As we await the coming of the Lord we know what we are to do: we are to keep working at love.

In the Gospel our gaze is turned to Jesus and we are encouraged to ask ourselves the question: Is Jesus the one for whom I am waiting or am I looking for someone different? Matthew gives us a checklist. Let us test ourselves by it. When you are in communion with Jesus, especially when you are in communion with him here at the Eucharist, but also when you are in communion with him in your daily life, do you notice that you can see better: see what to do, see how to respond, see the meaning of your life, see how to love? Do you listen better – to the hearts of those close to you, to the cry of those who are hurting, to the inspiration of God’s Spirit in your heart? Jesus asks the disciples of John the Baptist whether they are scandalised in him? Many people, then and now, think of salvation in terms very different from Jesus. They were looking for someone who would free them from Roman occupation and make them more prosperous, more successful. They wanted more bread for their stomachs. These are legitimate aspirations, but Jesus knew that achieving such things depends on a whole range of circumstances over which we have little or no control, and he knew too that God loves the world. God does not control it. Please God we will lead peaceful and happy lives. O that everyone did! God would be as delighted as we would be if that happened. But this is not what Jesus promised. He promised a peace that the world cannot give. He promised us a life that would have meaning because it would be a life of love whatever our circumstances. He promised to share with us the intimacy of his communion with God. Could the disciples of John the Baptist handle a Messiah who suffers with us, a Messiah who shares our fragility and vulnerability, a Messiah who knew persecution and abandonment and betrayal and who would suffer the terrible ignominy and awful pain of crucifixion? Can we handle that? Are we willing to measure ourselves and others by our love, or are we going to be seduced into measuring people by their productivity, their contribution to the economic welfare of the community? It is good to contribute to the economic welfare of the community (so long as that is truly what we are doing, and not using it as camouflage for personal aggrandizement), but the measure of our humanity is the measure of our love.

There is a birthday card which reads on the outside, “Sweetheart, you are the answer to my prayers!” Then when you open it, it reads, “You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you’re the answer!” I read an article some time ago which is rather disturbing if it is true. It stated that there are more family rows at Christmas than at any other time of the year because people have unrealistic expectations of Christmas and when they are not fulfilled tension results and then fuses blow leading to family rows. I hope that is not true.

I was reminded of those examples of unfulfilled hopes by the question of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” John the Baptist’s hopes in Jesus seemed not to be fulfilled. He was in prison because he preached the word of God, the truth about marriage and life-long fidelity to one’s spouse. We can easily understand his question, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” Like John we too sometimes feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Through no fault of our own we find ourselves in some difficulty or fix. And we wonder where is Jesus. And we too feel like sending messengers to him saying, “Are you the Messiah? Are you going to help me or will you leave me helpless?”

Jesus sent back the messengers to John the Baptist with this reply, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’ (Matt 11:4-6)

That is Jesus’ message to us also. Look around you and see the presence of God despite the difficulty you are in. Look around you and see the blind seeing again, the lame walking, lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the dead being raised to life. When we look around in our own diocese we see those words being fulfilled in the very powerful healing ministry of some priests of our diocese. A person in my last parish received a letter from a friend in another part of the country about being cured of cancer through the healing ministry of one the priests of our diocese. Events like that give us courage. Remember the last line of the message Jesus sent back to John in prison, ‘happy the man who does not lose faith in me’. When we are in prison like John, between a rock and a hard place, in some difficulty or fix, let us continue to trust and pray and not lose faith in Jesus. Let us continue to pray. Prayer is always answered somehow, somewhere, even if not in the way we expected. Keep sending messengers to Jesus looking for an answer to the problem. And we will get an answer, even if not what we expected. But let us keep trusting in God.

When our hopes are dashed let us turn to Jesus. He is the answer to all our hopes and dreams. He will not let us down. Cardinal Basil Hume wrote of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “In 1987 I visited St. Thérèse’s cell in the Carmel of Lisieux. By the door of her cell, scratched into the wood, she had written, “Jesus is my only love.” That was not written in exaltation but in near despair. She was thus crying out to her Beloved that even when she experienced nothing but absence, emptiness, darkness, she clung to the assurance of being loved and carried in his arms. That is faith at a heroic level – that is trust, clinging to God when everything in our experience would seem to contradict his very existence, or at least his love for us.”

The following was found written on a cellar wall in Cologne after World War II,

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I feel it not.
I believe in God even when he is silent.

Happy the man or woman in prison who does not lose faith in Jesus. Happy the man or woman stuck between a rock and a hard place who does not lose faith in Jesus. This is what Jesus teaches us. Christmas is fast approaching. As we prepare to take the child Jesus into our arms, like Simeon, let us get in touch with our longings, resist the distractions that can clutter this sacred season of rejoicing and pray that the love of God will purify our hearts and minds so that this Christmas will be for us and for those we love a season of profound and lasting joy!

 

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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