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Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

1. Isaiah 35, 1-6 and 10

  • The prophet speaks of a redemption for the whole world.  The desert blooms with abundant flowers.  The weak and marginalized become strong. 
  • Then will the lame leap like a stag.  What a moment for my own voice to leap.  I remember that God speaks to us from eternal time.  As we come closer to that final meeting we renew our youth, growing more alert to eternity and more agile in aligning ourselves with God’s cause. 
  • Yes, we have reached the joyful midpoint of Advent.  But who says we are supposed to be solemn in Advent?  Joy has been the tone of all our readings, the joy of those who have remained faithful.  I read now in the way I always read.
  • The readings today tell the wonderful things God has done in our midst.  Streams will burst forth.  God has caused the earth to become colorful and fertile.  God has renewed our energies.  The tongue of the dumb will sing!  Not just talk but sing!  How can I get that radical change across?
  • This is the season of rose and other parades.  If Isaiah had produced his prophecy on film, he would have begun with a downpour in the desert and time photography on the plant life, then continued with a crowd captivated by the happy news, and concluding with the proud people who enter Zion singing.  Would God be leading the way as a drum major?  I recall the last sermon of Martin Luther King: he wanted to be remembered as a drum major for justice.
  • Climax: Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God!  And God is the one who inspires our hope.  We are not vanquished, even if random violence and other manifestations of evil seem rampant and closing in on us.
  • Message for our assembly: Don’t we have the right to celebrate as a church?  I don’t mean just at ordination time and just inside our movements, but all year long and with everyone. 
  • I will challenge myself: To project my confident hope, starting with understatement and ending with the triumphal entry into the holy city.

2. James 5, 7-10

  • The apostle does not counsel any behavior really except patience.  I can’t miss it since he repeats the word four times. 
  • He also repeats Brothers and sisters three times, encouraging me to look upon the assembly as much as possible. 
  • See how the farmer waits.  Well, today they don’t wait very long!  But there is still the planting, tilling and fertilizing of the soil.  In this part of the country we understand the disaster that befalls us if the early and the light rains fail.  If I take my time someone may remember that our water levels are at historic lows.
  • Do not complain about one another.  Here’s another reminder that our own church loses patience and needs to keep in mind its unity before the Lord. 
  • Then he mentions the example of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  In other words, they spoke truth and took on themselves the consequences of being faithful: hardship.
  • Central point: The coming of the Lord repeated twice.
  • The message for our assembly: Do we really believe this?  Or have we heard the admonitions too often over the years, becoming inured to them? 
  • I will challenge myself: To read calmly, with insistence.

Gospel. Matthew 11, 2-11

  • John asked, Are you the one who is to come?  I make a point about future expectation, which is an important theme in Advent. 
  • But Jesus has a different answer that John did not expect.  Tell John what you hear and see.  This is what is happening.  The Baptist’s followers will have to decide for themselves whether the promised times have indeed arrived.  I am going to emphasize every mention of “are” and “have” in Jesus’ litany of fulfillment.  And I will also emphasize that Jesus stands alongside his disenfranchised brothers and sisters in a collective victory portrait, rather than alone on the winner’s stand. 
  • In one sense it is about the arrival of God’s Son.  And if it was happening then, it had better also be happening now.  So as I repeat the answer of Jesus, I pose the challenge to the assembly.  Do the blind see?  That is the benchmark of Christ for the church.
  • In another sense it is an assessment of John the Baptist: none greater than he.  He withdrew to the desert.  Jesus knew him there, and now he speaks sharp words about what he knows.  Here is part of the formula for awaiting the return of the Lord: meeting him in the emptiness, clear of distractions, shorn of all our honors and good works.
  • What did you go out to the desert to see?  Many of my listeners have made retreats, traveling across town or across country because of the attraction of a method of prayer or the fame of a holy man or woman.  They will understand this comment, just as the older people in Matthew’s congregation who knew John.
  • I hear much sarcasm in the words of Jesus.  A reed swayed (this is presidential primary season) and fine clothing (it’s Christmas and New Year’s party time). And I think of the numerous times I have attended conferences given by political candidates, and then those given by men and women of God.  I know the difference.  To see a prophet?  I have seen them occasionally, and as I look upon the congregation I pray that they have also seen them in their lives, that they have known how God acts among the people.
  • The least in the kingdom of heaven is spoken to the evangelist’s listeners and also to us.  Everyone who believes in Jesus and follows him inherits this promise.
  • Climax: Did you go out to see a prophet?  Advent is the season for prophets.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we know the difference between the real prophets and those who pretend to be one?  And are we doing our share of evangelizing today?
  • I will challenge myself: To hear and pass on the various moods of this reading, but especially the sense that the kingdom of God is already coming to fulfillment.

From Word to Eucharist: We do not need to shuffle forward, but advance with meaning and burning hearts.  Jesus is here with us.  Come, Lord Jesus!

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