ADVENT III - A - 16 MATTHEW 11. 2-11
“Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord,” so writes St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, known as James the Just. The people James is addressing are experiencing various trials: persecution, deception, economic injustice and poverty, apostasy and personal fragmentations in the Church. James uses his authority as Bishop to rekindle true living faith and encourage repentance, patience and self-control.
Advent is a season of patient waiting - a holy waiting for the coming of the Lord. The gospel for the first Sunday set the tone. You may recall it had to do with bridesmaids waiting for the return of the groom, not knowing when he would return. Last week John Baptist appeared on the scene looking and sounding like a prophet with a message God’s people had long been waiting to hear.
In today’s gospel Jesus appears to have ended the period of waiting for those who were looking for the promised one of God; the one who would usher in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing and saying things that are so wonderful John has to ask, “Are you the one or do we wait for another?”
The miracles Jesus is performing are in fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Messiah, especially those of Isaiah. If the people were excited about John’s preaching and baptizing down at the Jordan, they are totally amazed at what Jesus is doing and saying. But were they truly prepared for the demands of the kingdom that came with it?
Even John seems hesitant to accept Jesus as the One God has sent to judge the world and to baptize with Holy Spirit and fire. John is looking at Jesus with a gaze that is both critical and perplexed. The career of Jesus thus far had in no way suggested fulfillment of John’s expectations. And John was not alone.
Jesus had yet to make a public claim to Messiah ship. Rather, he lets his works speak for themselves. “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.”
Isaiah predicted that these signs would accompany the coming of Messiah. Jesus performs these miracles in the presence of John’s disciples so that they could see with their own eyes works that only Messiah could do.
Neither John, nor his disciples, nor the crowd which surrounded Jesus was prepared for what they saw and heard. For some their expectations were more than fulfilled and they celebrated that their period of waiting was over. God had made good on his promise in Jesus of Nazareth. For others, the jury was still out. Jesus had yet to prove himself as being the one God had sent, at least as far as the religious leader’s expectations were concerned.
If Advent is a season of waiting it is also one of preparation. In it we look both forwards and backwards. Backwards to the celebration of the Christ’s child’s birth, and forward to Christ’s coming again in great majesty. Our focus should be in preparing for both. How do we prepare in a world that does not recognize Advent but only wants to surge ahead to Christmas?
How do we prepare in a world that does not like to wait? The Church’ season of Advent reminds us that we are a people in waiting. The Advent wreath is a visual calendar. Each week as we light a candle we come closer, but not yet. Likewise the color violet reminds us that the “joy” of the Christ-child’s birth is not yet ours to celebrate. As we pass by the crèche on our way to the altar we see that it remains empty.
The readings heard during this short season remind us, as does James, to “be patient until the coming of the Lord.” But we all know that we are for the most part an impatient people. We don’t like to wait. The best many of us can do is to prepare for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Even then we are in a hurry to get it over with and move on with our lives.
How many Advents do we have to go through until Christ comes again? But is the answer to that question really what we should be focusing on? Should it not rather be our preparing for that day? The people of Israel waited for centuries. Their anticipation of the day of the Lord’s appearing waned with each passing century. The age of the prophets came and went and still no Messiah.
Like the ten virgins in the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent who failed to be prepared for a long wait; God’s people were not prepared for such a wait. John Baptist’s message to repent in preparation for the coming of the Christ took them by surprise.
And when Jesus began his ministry by fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, the people failed to receive him with joy. Instead some hesitated, as John did. Others rejected him altogether because he did not meet their expectation as the One God would send as Savior and Redeemer of the world.
What about us? Have we fully accepted Jesus as the One God has sent to redeem mankind? Are we hesitant to receive him as our Lord and King? More importantly are we prepared for the day of His coming?
How many more Advents do we have to endure? How much longer do we have to wait? It all sounds so very childish doesn’t it, like impatient children in the back seat on a long journey who ask over and over again “are we there yet?”
Could it be that we seek answers because we fear tomorrow. Because we fear the open and uncontrolled future. We look for signs to predict it, because we are not fully prepared. If not, why not?
The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves, repent of our sins, and ask God for the grace to persevere in the life of faith as we prepare once again to celebrate the Christ-child’s birth and to receive him in the manger of our hearts.
And at the same time with the gift of patient waiting prepare ourselves for the day when He shall come again in great power and glory to judge, so that without shame or fear we may rejoice at His appearing. AMEN+