Sunday Sermon for December 15, 2013, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Readings: Is 35:1-6a, 10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11
In the second reading St. James instructs us to be patient while awaiting the coming of the Lord. In the first century context this kind of encouragement was necessary. However, we might be tempted to think that it does not apply to us because after 2000 years it is pretty evident that we have to be patient.
While this is true we need also to consider the other points St. James makes. He tells us to make our hearts firm, to refrain from complaining about one another, and to follow the example of the Prophets in the areas of hardship and patience. So, the patience is not just about waiting for the Lord, but it is also about enduring hardships while keeping our hearts strong in our faith in Jesus.
Again we ask if these points might apply to us. Patience, suffering, not complaining and keeping our hearts on the Lord are not virtues that are typical of most people in the modern world. So, indeed, they do apply to us even after 2000 years.
This being the case, there is good reason why St. James tells us to follow the example of the Prophets. Each one of us, being incorporated into Jesus is a Priest, a Prophet and a King. Recall that the prophetic office is not about predicting the future; rather, it is about telling people the will of God for them. In other words, it is to teach the truth by words and by example.
It should go without saying that if we speak and live the truth we are going to have ample opportunity to work on our patience and suffering without complaining. Our Lord even gives a hint at this in the Gospel reading today when He asks what the people had gone out into the desert to see. He asked if they had gone to see someone in dressed in fine clothing. Those, He said, would be found in royal palaces. In the context, He is saying that a real prophet would not be gloriously adorned.
This suggests that one who is a real prophet would live a life of simplicity. In many ways, as evidenced by St. John the Baptist and the other Prophets, it would be a life of rejection and, perhaps, a rather lonely existence. However, this loneliness should not be understood in a negative way because the Prophet is alone with God in those moments and, as the author of the book Hermitage Within teaches, you are never less alone than when you are alone with God.
Because of this, the one who is united with God will be a person of hope and of joy. That is precisely what the Church gives us in the readings today. In the first reading we hear about such concepts as exulting, rejoicing, blooming, and joyful song. The reason given for all of this is the presence of God. If one becomes focused on one’s self a lonely existence will normally turn into a depressed existence. If one’s focus remains on the Lord, then there is hope and joy.
Our Lord teaches us that the truth will set us free. One of the greatest freedoms is the freedom from our being shackled to the things of this world and the approval of others. Although it may not look like it on the surface, another way to say this is that there is freedom from our own self.
The Prophets did not worry about what others thought of them; their only concern was serving the Lord. This brought them an abundance of rejection and derision, but the Prophet Jeremiah also tells us that when he found the Lord’s words, they became the joy and the happiness of his heart.
This is what God is desiring for each of us. The question, however, is whether or not we desire this. We can look to the Prophets for example, as St. James instructs us, but we can also just look to God. While it is not possible for Him to suffer, He has demonstrated patience beyond measure, He does not complain, and He rejoices when we do even the slightest thing that is really best for us.
Consider the immense dignity of your calling. You may object that you did not choose it. True enough; God chose it for you and called you to it. Now it is your turn. You can choose to answer this call or choose to ignore it. Most of us seem to want something in between. This is being lukewarm, a condition that will get us spewed out from our Lord’s mouth. Embrace the truth that comes from His mouth, speak it, live it, and find your joy in it. Strengthen your heart and find your fulfillment in living your call.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.