It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the 3rd Sunday of Advent. It seems early – because in a sense, it is. With Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, we observe Advent for the longest possible period – 28 days from the first Sunday till the birth of Christ. (Coincidentally, next year will be the shortest version, with advent only lasting 22 days because Christmas will happen on a Monday. You’ll want to pray for our priests on December 24th, 2017, who’ll begin the morning with two or three Masses for the 4th Sunday of Advent, and then continue in the late afternoon with Christmas eve Masses…)
The long and short of it is that we’re still two weeks – fourteen days – three hundred and thirty six hours away from Christmas day, and the reading we’ll hear at Mass will bring up a most appropriate theme: the need for patience… to keep on waiting.
Because I’m a bit under the weather today, I’m writing up this Mass reflection rather than making a video. As always, make sure you read the full text of the readings for Mass on the USCCB website, by clicking here.
I don’t like to wait. I never have. As a kid, I was always the are we there yet? kid; in adult life, I’ve made a point of trying to get to opening night of the latest Star Trek/Star Wars/Lord of the Rings movies (even if it meant going at 10pm on a week night).
Given that Advent is a season that’s all about waiting, the theme of patience is bound to come up. Our first reading from Isaiah (35:1-6, 10) presents a hymn describing the restoration of Jerusalem since, at the time of Isaiah’s ministry, Israel was living in exile. They were waiting to go home (and getting tired of it.)
This passage presents the promises that will reward Israel’s faithful waiting – a period of prosperity that will include physical healings (the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the mute will speak, and the lame will learn to walk.) It might be an understatement to say that these are promises that would be worth waiting for, since if you were the one who was blind, this might seem more like wishful thinking than anything else – but if true, these are promises that are absolutely worth waiting for. And I think it’s for this reason that Isaiah mentions the need for those who wait to have “strength of heart” (see Isaiah 35:4).
The second reading from St. James (5:7-10) is written more clearly to we who live after Jesus’ coming -although Isaiah’s encouragement in waiting also applies to us. Advent isn’t simply a season which focuses on celebrating a historical event (the birth of Jesus), but also a check of our own readiness to encounter Him in at His definitive return. This passage from James is an encouragement to us, again, to have firm hearts as we wait for that second coming because, again, the longer we wait the more we might be tempted to doubt and despair.
The Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11) presents messengers sent by John the Baptist to ask whether Jesus is in fact the one they’ve been waiting for. Is He, at long last, the answer to all their hopes and prayers? Is His presence going to mark the restoration and renewal that God’s people had awaited for centuries? Have these firm hearts finally paid off?
Jesus’ answer is fascinating. He cites evidence that Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled in him: the blind seeing, the lame walking, and the deaf hearing; but the evidence doesn’t stop there. Lepers are also being cleansed and the dead are being raised – in other words, God is going far beyond anything either the Israelites of Isaiah’s time, Jesus’ time, or even our own time could reasonably expect or even dream of. And this is, ultimately, what we need to keep in our hearts and minds during this Advent season – God’s promises are worth waiting for:
While you worked awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as had not been heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you working such deeds for those who wait for him. -Isaiah 64:2-3
Waiting isn’t a lot of fun whether we’re kids counting down to Christmas or adults in line for a coffee. It’s not fun to wait for God to reveal His plans or the day of His return when so many injustices will be made right. But the promise we cling to – what John the Baptist, his messengers, and so many others have realized since the day they asked Jesus whether He was the one – is that our waiting will be rewarded. Not easy, but worth it.