Sunday Sermon for December 15, 2019, the Third Sunday in Advent, Year A
Readings: Is 35:1-6a, 10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11
In both the first and the second readings an identical point is made. Isaiah is to say to those whose hearts are frightened: “Be strong, fear not. Here is your God.” James tells us: “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” The first reference was to the Incarnation of Christ and His life among us on earth. The second reference is to the Second Coming and our life with Jesus in Heaven.
When we consider the first reference to the coming of our Lord, it is directed to the People of God around the time of the exile to Babylon. The people needed hope and God tells the Prophet Isaiah that when the Messiah comes, everything will be turned upside down. The desert will exalt and the steppe will bloom; the barren land will be given the glory that belongs to Carmel and Sharon, two of the most lush and beautiful mountains in Israel.
At the same time, Isaiah tells us there will be changes in the human condition: the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf, cleared, the lame will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute will sing. Sadness and mourning will give way to rejoicing and gladness. Not only will these things happen on the natural level because of the presence of God, but more importantly, great things will take place on the spiritual level. Those the world holds up will be ignored while the poor and lowly will be chosen by the Lord.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples of St. John the Baptist that the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah’s prophecy is proof to the Baptist that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Of interest is what follows after John’s disciples leave to inform their master of our Lord’s response to his inquiry of whether or not He was the One to come. Rather than focusing on Himself and the Baptist’s question, Jesus turns to the crowd and asks them about St. John: “What did you go out to the desert to see?”
Our Lord proposes two possibilities: a reed swaying in the wind or someone dressed in fine clothing. In other words, Jesus tells the crowd that John the Baptist was not a crazy man making a fool of himself in the desert, entertaining the people with his foolishness. Nor was he someone of refinement sitting in the royal court, looking good, but speaking only what was politically correct. No, John was a Prophet who spoke the Word of God. The people were attracted to John because he spoke the truth, not because of foolishness or political correctness.
The point our Lord brings up in this context is important for us because it requires us to ask similar questions about Him. Who is He? Why do we seek Him? As we consider these questions it becomes imperative to recognize that we ask and answer these questions in the present, not in the past or in the future. In other words, we begin with hearts that are strengthened because the Lord is present with us and within us. While the Second Coming is still something we await with hope and joy, we rejoice now because Jesus is with us and dwells within us!
Our hearts need to be strengthened in the Lord Who dwells within. He is our God, our Savior, and our King. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is pure love. The people who heard John the Baptist were challenged to deal with the gravity of his message because he was the prophet of the Lord. Today we are challenged to deal with the message of Christ precisely because He is the Lord and continues to speak His message through the Church. He cannot lie or deceive; He cannot lead us astray; He has conquered all we could fear; and He desires only what is best for us. All this can be said of Jesus because He has died, risen, and gone to Heaven. He has done all of this, and now He remains with us and within us, so our question is not of the past or the future, but the present.
Knowing this, why do we fear? So much anxiety exists in the world today, but He has conquered. We live in a world of confusion, but we have the clarity of Truth. We are surrounded by selfishness and an epidemic of narcissism, but we have Love Himself. The devil causes chaos and sows doubt, that is why each of us must answer the questions raised by John’s disciples about Jesus. If you believe in Jesus, remove your gaze from the world outside and gaze upon the One Who dwells in your heart – and rejoice!
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.