Scripture Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Letter of James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
We are now very close to celebrating the Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity, Christmas Day, on December 25th. The Lord is very near and is coming quickly, as the Liturgy of the Church keeps reminding us. It is the recurring theme in the season of Advent.
The nearness of the Lord should be a comfort to all believers. The Redeemer of all people is coming, desiring that all of us partake of everlasting life. Christ our God came among us as a human being, toiling and suffering for us, sharing our existence to the full, showing us how to live and how to hand ourselves over in the service of God and neighbor.
The Lord calls us to give of ourselves, what Christ also called “losing oneself,” in order to truly find oneself, whereby we attain complete fulfillment, realized in Christ who dwells in our hearts.
The scripture readings assigned for the Third Sunday of Advent, when the vestment color changes, remind us of the Lord’s nearness and how pleasant and rich the mystery of God’s coming really is. The color assigned by the Church for today’s liturgy is rose, recalling the fragrant offering we make to God and calling to mind what many consider to be the most fragrant of flowers, the rose.
I was born and raised in what is called “the City of Roses,” Portland, Oregon, and anyone from there will tell you there is no better or more fragrant flower than the rose! Our Church in her liturgy wishes us to know that our God can be compared to the powerful beauty and fragrance of the rose. Of course, it is only a comparison, since our God transcends the beauty and goodness of all things.
In the first lesson for this Sunday Isaiah the Prophet rejoices in the thought of the transformation of all things: the barren desert, the parched earth, the dry fields, the weak and drooping hands and knees, those who are frightened—anything and anyone in need of encouragement, enrichment and life. Presumably that includes each of us as well.
The blind, the crippled, the deaf, the mute, need not fear, says Isaiah, and in fact should rejoice, for God has come and always comes to transcend all physical limitations and barriers, opening a way for all to run, without the limits of a material world.
In the actual context of the scripture text, originally composed in Hebrew, these are words about returning to Jerusalem after prolonged exile and imprisonment in Babylon. That is precisely what everyone is in need of, a return from estrangement and a belonging to something greater than self, to the God who saves us.
The people of Israel longed to be able to return to their homeland. Likewise, we who were created to share in God’s eternal banquet in heaven, must now walk in faith, hope and love through this life, drawing closer to God with every breath we take. That can happen if we allow ourselves to be transformed by our infinite and all-loving God.
We are sinful creatures, yet called to greatness and holiness, possible by the active working of God in our souls, what is called supernatural grace. It cannot be weighed or measured, but is more real than anything we have ever had or experienced.
Like the Isaiah prophesy, written centuries before the birth of Christ, the Gospel passage this Sunday focuses on God’s coming in our midst, without doubt or delay. God is Love and where love in found, there is God. As such, the power of light cannot be defeated by the darkness of sin and error.
Christ will be with us always, as he promised, but with a call to extend Christ-like love to all we meet, the poor and rich, the infirm and healthy, the young and old. Christ came to change everything and every one, to be our light in the darkness and our strength in all our weakness and doubt.
Saint James, whose letter is given in part as the second lesson for this Sunday’s Mass, speaks about another important Christian virtue, namely, patience. It is a fundamental theme for all who follow Christ, but something we always need more of. Patience is certainly connected to love, since most often patience has to do with our dealings with others, but not exclusively. We need patience with situations as well, be they matters of health, our future, our studies, our work, the weather, our superiors, whatever. We all need patience “never to despair of God’s mercy,” as Saint Benedict reminds his monks.
Every spiritual journey requires a strong dose of patience. Consistency in our work, keeping the commandments, sticking to our obligations, will lead us to happiness and holiness. But it takes much time and effort, practice and the development of good habits, seeking virtue rather than vice. We may fail, but are called to get up again, fortified by God’s grace and the Sacraments of the Church and those around us who encourage us.
We never give up, even when sorely tempted to do so. It is often when we are most ready to admit our limitations, our weaknesses, that we are really able to receive the help we need, and most especially the outstretched hand of God. We must do our part as well, disposing ourselves to receive God’s help, with “a broken humbled heart,” as the psalmist expressed it in Psalm 50 (51).
We ask with hope for the help of God, who has redeemed us in Jesus Christ. In serenity and patience we are to hear God’s voice calling out to us each day, to lose ourselves that we may be found doing God’s work, that is, loving all and serving them without counting the cost.
May the Eucharist, Holy Mass, where we commemorate the supreme sacrifice of God’s love for us, in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, help us know more profoundly God’s great gifts and be more ready and willing to hand over our lives for love of God and others.
We carry on in the season of Advent with gentle expectation of truly meeting the Lord who has loved us into being and invites us to taste of immortality.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB