15th December: Third Sunday of Advent
Theme: Society finds it so hard to tolerate dissent that those who step out of line are often harshly treated. At great risk, John the Baptist castigated the authorities of his day. Only by doing so could he prepare his people for the coming of Christ.
First Reading: Book of Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
(God’s presence among us is the source of courage for believers. Today, Isaiah tells what God can do: he can open our eyes and turn the barren desert of our life into a blossoming garden.)
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus
it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Second Reading: Epistle of St. James 5:7-10
(Our faith does not guarantee us an easy time in this life. His apostle, James urges us to be patient and to follow the noble example of courage shown to us by others.)
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is sanding at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
(The compassionate cures of Jesus show that Jesus is the awaited Saviour. From his prison cell, John the Baptist is confirmed in his faith and is ready to face his execution by king Herod.)
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John : “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, â€˜See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Be Happy in the Lord
“”Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God”. Today is Rejoicing Sunday. Today the candle on the wreath is pink, not purple as on the other Sundays of Advent; to express the joy felt at the nearness of the Lord. Some people seem to be happy by nature; others mournful by nature. Here is the story of a priest who always preached mournful sermons. He was asked by his parish priest to preach about St. Joseph instead, as he was a cheerful man. The following Sunday the priest spoke about Joseph who happened to be a carpenter and as a result spent a lot of his time making coffins and here we go again with sad, sad tales.
Three things about happiness: first, happiness is right now. We convince ourselves that life will be better when we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids are not old enough and we will be more content when they are. After that we are frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together. The truth is there is no better time to be happy than right now.
Second, ‘If you are happy, let your face know’. Maybe we could begin to be more joyful by taking a peek in the mirror and asking ourselves: does my face look like the face of someone who has heard the good news of the Gospel, namely that I am loved unconditionally by God?
Third, joy will come to us if we set about actively trying to create it for others. If I go about my life demanding that others carry me rather than seeking to carry them; feeding off others rather than feeding them; demanding that others meet my needs rather than trying to meet theirs, joy will never find me no matter how hard I party or try to crank up good cheer
Could John the Baptist have doubted?
Why did the Baptist send from his prison cell that urgent question to Jesus: “Are you He that is to come?” Hadn’t John recognised our Lord as the Messiah several months previously, at the Jordan, when he proclaimed Him publicly as the Lamb of God? Did John, faced with almost certain death under Herod, have doubts or second thoughts about Jesus? Some say no, John only asked the question for the sake of his followers, who needed confirmation of their faith from Christ himself. But if John did have doubts, it was because of the peaceful way that Jesus behaved, not at all like the violent revolutionary the Jews expected as their Messiah. The answer to his question came when Jesus told him what the true Messiah would be like: healer of the sick, consoler of the suffering, preacher of freedom and truth to the poor. In this way, John’s faith in Jesus was made strong, giving him courage to stand up against Herod, and accept the martyr’s death.
Sure of salvation, yet able to patiently wait
As St James puts it so well: “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.” With this spirit of confidence and patience, we can face any number of problems in life, and face even our death in peace, like John the Baptist.