Radical Advent Joy
Reflections on forthcoming Mass readings. More guides are available under “Don’t Miss This."
Sunday, Dec. 12, is the Third Sunday of Advent (Liturgical Year A, Cycle I), Gaudete (“rejoice”) Sunday.
The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe isn’t celebrated this Dec. 12 because an Advent Sunday — Gaudete Sunday — takes precedence. However, the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety, which helps identify legitimate popular devotions, sums up Advent as a “Marian month” because Mary is at the center of the Christmas mystery.
So, make it a point to celebrate Our Lady today. Not because it’s the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but because today is the joyful “rose” Sunday in the Marian “month” of Sundays.
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Psalm 146:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Today the readings call us to a radical change in what to expect, how to await it and how to behave.
First, it calls us to a deeper faith. In his day, many of the disciples expected Christ to be a political messiah. They wanted him to make this world more peaceful — or to make their side more victorious, anyway.
In our day, we want Christ to be a “comfort Messiah.” We want him to make our lives less troubled. We want him to make problems go away.
That is not the Christ we are told to wait expectantly for this Advent.
In the first reading, Isaiah uses metaphorical imagery to explain the transformation Christ would bring: “The desert and the parched land will exult. … They will bloom with abundant flowers.”
A dead place will fill with flowers. Go to Jerusalem today and you will find that this has not occurred. But the fruits Christ brought are an interior version of that. They are the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.”
So, our faith isn’t that the Messiah will bring success or victory. Rather, he will bring an interior victory. He will “strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak,” and “say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong; fear not!”
He will revive those who are weakened by sin and make whole those who are maimed by sin.
The first reading tells us what to expect. The second reading tells us what our attitude should be as we await it.
“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord,” writes St. Paul. He compares our attitude to “how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth.”
When we have a new baby, we would love to see right away how that baby will look and act as a teen or young adult. But nature doesn’t give us that satisfaction. We have to watch, wait and tend the process for years. The same goes for our parish or our community or our nation. We would love to see a switch flipped and a new world appear. But there are few sudden changes in society, and next to none that last.
It’s the same in our lives. We want to be transformed by grace, but we won’t be today. It will take many small, almost imperceptible, moments of grace.
Finally, in the Gospel, we are told what kind of person to be as we await our interior transformation and patiently help it along.
John has written to Jesus, asking him whether Jesus is the Messiah or not. Jesus responds by pointing to the evidence: “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. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
In other words: Human beings are made whole — and the poor, in their poverty, are being made whole. The key thing is to identify with Christ.
He then presents John himself as a model of the kind of person he wants us to be.
“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” he asks. “Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.”
His rhetorical questions paint a picture. What we admire about John the Baptist is that his interior life is where his attraction lies. He is radically identified with Christ: He is identified with Christ from the inside out. He hasn’t adopted outward practices to imitate Christ; he has changed his inmost being.
And he invites us to do the same.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.