15 December 2019
Isaiah 35: 1–6, 10
James 5: 7–10
Matthew 11: 2–11
In a large private school, a class began to prepare for Advent and their annual Christmas party. One student suggested as part of their Advent preparations they should adopt a poor family and provide a big hamper and some money so they could have a better Christmas than normal.
It seemed like a good idea but a rather intelligent student said: ‘Hey, not so fast. That sort of giving is gone out of fashion. This kind of individual charity is degrading and ineffective. Besides you are only trying to relieve one family. What the world needs is an overall solution to the problem of world poverty’.
And it came to pass that as the group engaged in a long discussion about world poverty and the global problems of the poor, the idea of adopting the one poor family living near their school was forgotten.
In this third Sunday of Advent, Jesus is telling us that Christianity demands concrete acts of love, not long and detailed discussions about world terrorism or world poverty. Though these have their place too.
At this stage John the Baptist is in prison and maybe he is having doubts about whether the One he pointed out, Jesus, was the longed for Messiah. So he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the One to come or do they have to wait for another. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t give a direct ‘yes’, he simply instructed them: ”Go back and report to John, what you hear and see; the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5) – part of today’s gospel.
These are the concrete tangible signs whereby people would be able to recognize the true Messiah. It is the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of Isaiah expressed in today’s first reading (Is. 35.6). Jesus’ mission was not to establish a powerful new empire and bring down God’s wrath and anger on the Roman army of occupation, Jesus was not a political Messiah nor an economic Saviour. John the Baptist, the Messiah’s herald, had gone through the whole Jordan district proclaiming the coming of Christ and when asked for direction: ’what must we do then, his answer was simple: If anyone has two tunics he must share with the one who has none and the one who has something to eat must do the same. To those who were using their positions of power to exploit and cheat and intimidate, John said: ’No more’. In other words, ‘faith alone’ is not enough: faith should bear fruit in active works of love.
When John the Baptist had asked the question: are you the one who is to come? it can be asked in many different ways in our world today. It can mean: ’Are You the One, Lord who can give meaning to our lives, fill the emptiness within us and heal our woundedness? Or shall we look for meaning elsewhere – in material possessions, in self-indulgent or even self-destructive pursuits? Helplessness, confusion and woundedness may tempt us to grasp at whatever could give us instant relief. But it is the Lord’s promise of his coming that sustains us even in the face of life’s many trials and sufferings.
Advent is about waiting expectantly for the Lord’s coming even when we are aware of our poverty, emptiness and hopelessness. He loves us as we are and not what we would like to be. We live in a world where we can get answers to many things quickly: an instant reply by cellphone or mobile phone; a quick answer by checking the computer, instant food, fast food etc. The danger is that oftentimes we expect God to respond at once especially in sickness and trial.
The things Jesus did in Galilee he still does. If we are blind to the truth about God, others, and ourselves he opens our eyes if we ask him. If we are lame in the sense that we find it hard to stay on the right path, he will strengthen us. If we suffer from the leprosy of sin he will cleanse us if we pray for this. Those of us who are dead to the voice of God and conscience will be able to listen. If we feel dead and powerless to love God he will give us new life if we honestly want it and ask humbly for it.
But also we forget to look around us and see and hear all that the Lord is doing for us now
– the support of friends in times of difficulty;
– the concern and compassion of family and friends in time of grief or sudden deaths;
– the phone calls and visits of others when we are in hospital;
– and not forgetting the modern miracles of medicine, bringing people back to health, improving sight, helping people who were lame to walk better, even bringing some back from death’s door.
The Lord is always coming into our lives. Thus, Advent, waiting for the Lord, is often happening before our very eyes if we can but see it.
Advent culminates in Christmas after which our questions become a mission. Once we have experienced his presence and power in our lives, we are sent like John the Baptist as heralds of the Good News: ”Go and tell others of what you see and hear”
“Lord Jesus, help us to fully believe the Good News as you reveal it to us. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein SMA