Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudate Sunday

December 11, 2022
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist is the last and greatest prophet before the coming of the Messiah. His prophetic witness begins even before his own birth and also before the birth of Jesus, as he leaps in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when she is visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. Elsewhere in the Gospel, John the Baptist proclaims Jesus to be the Lamb of God who has come to deliver us from our sins. John the Baptist protests Jesus’ desire to be baptized by him because he knows himself not even to be worthy to untie the straps of his sandals.

So, it makes us wonder why John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to inquire directly if Jesus is the one for whom John and the people of Israel are waiting or if they should expect someone else. While sitting in prison was John starting to wonder if he had been mistaken about his cousin?

Jesus sends John’s disciples back to him with what seems to be an indirect answer. Jesus tells them to relate to John what they have seen:  the eyes of the blind are open … the ears of the deaf can hear … the lame leap like deer … the speechless sing for joy. Jesus is referring the prophet John the Baptist to the prophesy of Isaiah without quoting Isaiah’s words but by showing His own actions as to what the Messiah will do. John the Baptist will recognize this immediately. This is because a prophet finds joy and strength in the word of God and announces true hope, which does not disappoint because it is founded on the trustworthiness and faithfulness of God.

But then Jesus adds something else to His message that surpasses the prophesy of Isaiah: lepers are cleansed … the dead are raised … the poor have the good news preached to them. Jesus does more than fulfill the promise of Isaiah; because He is not only the Messiah, but also the Son of God. Only God can cleanse sinners. Only God can raise the dead. Jesus sends to John the message that God has kept His promise and more than fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah.

Advent calls us to conversion and prompts us to ask the prophetic question that John the Baptist poses to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” As a prophet, the greatest of prophets, John had been patiently waiting for God to fulfill His promises. All his life John waited for the Messiah; his radical life in the wilderness, even his body was shaped by this expectation. Yet, John also had to repent and convert to Jesus as not just the Messiah, but as He truly is, God’s own Son. This requires prophetic hope. Every Christian, by virtue of our Baptism, has received this prophetic character.

The prophetic dimension of our Christian vocation requires patience. Saint James reveals and describes this prophetic patience in our second reading from today: “Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” And again, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.”

The farmer exemplifies how hope fortified by patience integrates reason and faith in a measured way. In the first place, the farmer knows the laws of nature and sows and reaps to the laws of nature; in the second place, he trusts in God’s power and goodness, because the farmer, like the prophet, knows that not everything is in his control but in the hands of God. Our culture of immediate gratification demands and promotes the unjust expectation of human omnipotence. Patience spares us from replacing hope in God’s omnipotence with a wish that we could be omnipotent. As Benedict XVI once observed, “Patience and constancy are truly a synthesis between human commitment and confidence in God.”

Advent is a time of patient hope. It calls us to develop inner tenacity and resilience, which enables us not to become discouraged while waiting for the good that is anticipated but slow in coming, but on the contrary to prepare for its coming with active trust and loving preparation.

Advent is a time of grace. It is a season that reminds us that we are powerless to change ourselves and that our salvation lovingly begins and ends entirely with God’s initiative but by which He draws out from us, not our self-imposed and cosmetic change of identity but our true and interior transformation received and offered in love.

Advent is a time of joy. Christian joy, like hope, springs from God’s faithfulness, on the certainty that God cannot and will not deceive us and that He always keeps His promises. It most especially rests on the certainty that God has even surpassed keeping His promise because He has accomplished this by the gift of not just a mythological hero, but by the gift of His own Son, who has taken on the body and blood of our humanity through the generous and hopeful trust of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

For God Himself is coming with vindication and divine recompense to save us from our ancient and cunning enemy. Then will our willfully blind eyes be opened; our ears deaf with obstinacy will be cleared; we will leap from our indifference like a stag; and we will sing God’s praises crowned with everlasting joy. Jesus Christ is coming; we dare not look for another.

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