Third Sunday of Advent

The great and glorious festival of heavenly light and joy and reconciliation and healing fast approaches, yet there is a persistent cloud of much sadness and anger and division hanging about us. It isn’t just the state of our political discourse. It is also the state of our school cafeteria and workplace lunchroom and dinner table discourse. We can sometimes point to a specific annoyance or two. More often it’s a blanket of fog we embrace when we decide pre-emptively to shut our ears and eyes because we no longer know who to trust and what to believe. We are ever in search of peace of mind and heart. Our friendships and acquaintances, once welcoming and warm and cordial, are now strained and broken under piles of hurt, both real and imagined. Heavy dark clouds loom over us threatening storms of mistrust and ill will and resentment. We are dazed in our outrage and indignation, our pride and confidence wounded by unforgiving self-righteous animosity. And we wander cautiously in the darkest night pretending all is well, as we cling to illusions of hope and indiscriminately extend to those around us glad tidings of comfort and joy. But do we really have reason to be joyful on this third Sunday of Advent, this Sunday of gladness and rejoicing?

If we see this time of year primarily as a season of twinkling lights and Christmas cookies, of elaborate gift-giving and Hallmark television specials, of that creepy Elf on a shelf and Christmas carols playing incessantly since Thanksgiving, we’ve likely become immune to or have chosen to shut out whatever we deem unpleasant or disagreeable. I don’t deny there is much that is easily unpleasant or disagreeable all year round. But we can be even more resistant to genuine Advent rejoicing and gladness when it means to threaten our self-imposed blindness and the fanciful illusions of little children. We claim we are disciples of Jesus Christ, so we could be more mindful of our sisters and brothers who are not able to celebrate this holy season because they cannot afford to, or the light is unable to penetrate deeply into the darkness of their grief and resentment, or that overwhelming darkness is truly beyond their power to dispel at all. So if we have good reason to be truly joyful on this third Sunday of Advent, perhaps we already possess some light we can share with those around us who yet wander in the darkness.

Even John the Baptist had doubts about Jesus. John might remember what he saw and heard when he baptized Jesus at the Jordan, the Spirit descending like a dove, and the Father’s voice proclaiming him the Beloved Son. But even that is now a distant memory. Now he sits in prison wondering if all his preaching of the coming of the Kingdom of God was even worth it. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus sent them back with the instruction, “Look around you. What do you hear? What do you see?” A little encouragement goes a long way to reignite hope, especially when darkness seems to be closing in. The passage we read from Isaiah announces the dawning of the Messianic age, which in Jewish tradition, was a time of unprecedented peace and fulfillment. The images we read about are striking in their contrast with our present reality and most everything we consider normal or typical. Isaiah speaks of the desert and the parched land blooming with new life. Familiar places like Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon in the north country synonymous with lush growth, fertile fields and valleys are projected onto the barren desert south. Last week’s passage spoke of domestic and wild animals coexisting in harmony with each other and with the human race, the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the young lion with a child to guide them, the cow and the bear, the lion and the ox, the baby playing by the cobra’s den. And in today’s passage, we come upon still more striking images, the healing of all human ills, strength for the feeble, firmness for the weak, comfort for the frightened. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” And with this hope carried and nurtured in the hearts and minds of his own people, Jesus hints that the age of peace and fulfillment has arrived. “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.” It would take many of them a while longer to recognize the signs. And today there are still many who do not yet see or hear.

In the second reading James reminds us to be patient as our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow seem to be taking a while. He did not mean necessarily an economic recovery in our time, something that would definitely ease our troubles and tensions. He was not speaking of the end to all war and violence, or disease, famine, and poverty. Rather, he was speaking of the culmination of all human history, when Christ would return in glory at the end of time. “Do not complain, so that you may not be judged.” And the farmer awaiting the harvest is the most optimistic image ever.

In every generation we have claimed and lamented that our time is the worst the world has ever known. Yet each Advent, we hear of the arrival of a new and glorious age, a time of fulfillment and renewal, a time of tremendous grace and blessing, of reconciliation and second chances, a time of healing for the broken, strength for the struggling, hope for the discouraged, and new life for the dead. Look around you, he invites us. What do you hear? What do you see? The Lord is near. The Kingdom of God is in our midst, no longer hidden if only we are attentive. Do not be fearful. Rejoice!

And perhaps we might consider sharing the light and rejoicing of this day with our sisters and brothers still burdened by sadness and anger and grief and resentment. We can extend welcome to the lonely, assurance to the fearful, compassion to the angry and the wounded. We might even attempt to guide the discourse at the school cafeteria and the workplace lunchroom and the dinner table toward the light and rejoicing. As for the political discourse, I’m not so sure. But we can keep working on what is within our reach. What our faith offers us is not some cosmetic fix. If we search deeper into our soul, the light of Jesus can root out that darkness which is selfishness and sin.

In darkest night his coming shall be when all the world is despairing;

As morning light so quiet and free, so warm and gentle and caring;

Then shall the mute break forth in song, the lame shall leap in wonder;

the weak be raised above the strong, and weapons be broken asunder.

(Marty Haugen—Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn)

Rolo B Castillo © 2019