Joy in his timing, his priorities

Listen to mp3 file
3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A: Dec. 15, 2013
Isa 35:1-6, 10; Ps 146; James 5:7-10; Matt 11:2-11

We have reached the Third Sunday of Advent, and our excitement is building for the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus! Or at least it is if we are letting the Scripture readings each week sink into our hearts.

  • For back on the First Sunday, we heard our Lord Jesus promise that he would come again, and warn us that when he would come would be unexpected. And so he urged us: Stay awake! Be prepared!
  • And then, last week, we were reminded by the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist about why we should look forward to this Second Coming with anticipation. For he will come with power and wisdom; he will divide the good from the bad, and at last take away the power of the bad, and all danger and all harm. Even the smallest and weakest will have nothing to fear.
  • And this week we hear these words of joy from Isaiah in the first reading: The desert, the parched land… will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song. Those whom the Lord has ransomed will be crowned with everlasting joy.

And so, if we’ve been taking this all in, we are bursting with excitement. With the psalm, we cry out: Lord, come and save us! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!

And then here we are, waiting.

The joy, bursting with excitement, can then become impatience, and then disappointment. Because we want our Lord Jesus to come again, to come now, and to carry out these promises—and he hasn’t done it yet.

And so what a perfect time to hear our Gospel reading about John the Baptist.

John the Baptist, we know, was sent to prepare people for the coming of the Lord. He proclaimed his coming; he proclaimed his power. He proclaimed that he would separate the wheat from chaff, burn the chaff, and gather the wheat into his barn. And so he urged: repent! Change your life!

But now we see that John has been imprisoned, by King Herod Antipas—because John had told Herod that it was unlawful for him to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias. Neither of them liked that, and so they imprisoned him: John, who had spent so many years in the open countryside, now cooped up in a small space between four stone walls. But he still clearly had communication with the outside world; he heard about what Jesus was doing while he was locked up; and then he sent his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Why was John asking the question?

  • It could be that, after some time in prison, he was feeling depressed, discouraged, and was beginning to wonder if he had made a mistake in thinking that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Maybe he’s asking because he himself needs to know.
  • Or, maybe he is sending his disciples to Jesus with this question because he wants them to know. He wants them to meet Jesus, and to hear Jesus’ answer, for themselves, so that they can come to believe and to follow him.

Either way, the question itself is the same. The question sets side by side two things that don’t seem to be like each other:

  • On the one hand, John had proclaimed a strong Messiah who would judge, who would punish, who would drastically change the landscape.
  • On the other hand, here was Jesus, traveling about, preaching, gathering disciples, performing miracles. But not judging, punishing, or overthrowing the Roman Empire.

It asks: How do those two things fit together?

And we notice that Jesus doesn’t answer it directly in words; that is, he doesn’t say, “Yes, I am the one who is to come.” Instead, he points them to his actions: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” All of these recall other prophecies about him in Isaiah. And so implicitly he says: “Yes, I am the one who is to come. No, I am not yet doing those things that you proclaimed about me and that your disciples expect. Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.

“My timing is not your timing. My priorities are not your priorities. I am not following what you expected or what you want. But I am the one you are waiting for. Stick with me. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

Consider the color of the vestments that we can wear on this Gaudete Sunday: rose. Back on the First Sunday of Advent, we heard St. Paul say: “The night is advanced, the day is at hand.” The color we wear today is not the black of night, but neither is it the bright white of daylight. Instead, we know that day begins with sunrise, and the sunrise begins with the sight of a little bit of rose on the horizon. And so this rose color can speak to us of the beginning of the sunrise of Christ’s Second Coming. Already the night is starting to end; already we can see that rose glow!

And what is that rose glow? John the Baptist looked forward to the transformation of the universe; we look forward to it as well; but it is not what our Lord is doing yet, at least, not on that scale. What is he doing? He is giving the blind their sight, making the lame to walk, cleansing lepers, raising the dead! He is doing this every day: spiritually, and also sometimes physically.

  • Physically, he works through the gifts of healing given by the Holy Spirit; and he works through the many medical works of mercy carried out by his People all around the world.
  • And he makes the spiritually blind to see, the spiritually lame to get up and walk, the spiritually dead to live again! This he does especially through the grace of the sacraments, and through his Word, and in many other ways.

I see this every day! I see it:

  • in Project Rachel, through which women and men who suffer the pain of past abortions receive healing;
  • in confession, in which sins are forgiven and people are set free;
  • in deliverance prayers, in which people are liberated from what has bound them in the past;
  • in marriage preparation, in which a young couple encounters the truth of Christ and of themselves, and begins to change and prepare for a lifelong marriage together;
  • in RCIA, in which those who have not been baptized or are not yet Catholic also encounter the truth of Christ and are changed;
  • and in our youth group.

Again and again, I see these things that our Lord Jesus is doing, every single day! He is making the blind to see, making the lame to walk, raising the dead to new life! He isn’t yet carrying out the fullness of what he promised he would do at his Second Coming; but that doesn’t mean he is doing nothing. If we can trust his timing and his priorities, and if we can walk with him, rather than expecting him to follow our lead, then we can have joy indeed. Patience—St. James counsels us in the second reading—patience!

And so there is joy in the journey; joy in the waiting; joy in seeing the rosy glow of what our Lord is doing as the night nears its end. And so with joy and with patience, we say: Come, Lord Jesus!

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