Entrance Antiphon: Phil 4:4-5 — “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
First Reading: Is 35:1-6a, 10 — “God Himself will come to save us.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 146:6-7, 8-9. 9-10 — “Lord, come and save us.”
Second Reading: Jas 5:7-10 — “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Alleluia: Is 61:1 (Lk4:18) — “Alleluia, alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Gospel: Mt 11:2-11 — “Are You the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Communion Antiphon: Is 35:4 — “Say to the faint of heart: Be strong and do not fear. Behold our God will come, and He will save us.”
The closer and closer we get to December 25th, the more likely we will hear the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?” We are apt to gauge our readiness by whether the tree is trimmed and the cookies are baked ... whether the shopping is finished and the cards are sent. These preparations are all fine, but we are reminded on this Third Sunday of Advent that there is more for us to do if we are to be ready for Christmas. We are urged today to add three more things to our “to do” list: to rejoice, to be patient, and to be a messenger.
If we are to be ready for Christmas, the Prophet Isaiah tells us that we should rejoice. We rejoice when God comes to save us because this means amazing things will happen. Isaiah paints an incredible picture. All of nature will rejoice. Feeble hands will become strong, and weak knees will become firm. Frightened hearts will fear no more. The blind will see, and the deaf will hear. Sorrow and mourning will flee. Isaiah was speaking a message of comfort and joy to people who were exiled and oppressed, people frightened and weak and in great sorrow. Isaiah assured them that when the time of the Messiah would come, things would surely be different. They would be able to rejoice without end.
But here we are – over two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, getting ready to celebrate this great event yet again – and suffering, fear, and sorrow abound. Maybe we should wonder whether Isaiah possibly had it wrong. If God really did come to save us in Jesus, and if this truly is cause for rejoicing, then why does suffering remain?
Saint James helps us answer that question in the Second Reading when he tells us that we must be patient as we wait for the coming of the Lord, patience being the second thing on our “to do” list these next weeks. Part of being patient is to avoid complaining about others ... because you might be judged just as you are judging them. Another part of patience is bearing our share of hardships ... that can sometimes be a real test of patience. James tells us we should look to the prophets like Isaiah for models of patience in the face of hardship. But patience does not mean passivity, as we know from the prophets. They were patient, but they were also persistent. And because of this persistence, prophets were often persecuted. But they proclaimed God’s message, nonetheless.
Proclaiming God’s message, being messengers, is the third way we are called to prepare for the birth of Jesus. We hear in today’s Gospel of the prophet – the messenger – who Jesus tells us is the greatest of any: John the Baptist. John was “in prison for the works of Christ.” He would later meet his death because he had spoken out against King Herod. Jesus speaks words of great praise for John the Baptist. Quoting the Prophet Malachi, Jesus says of John: “I am sending My messenger ahead of you; He will prepare your way before you.”
Here and now in 2022, we are messengers no less than John. In fact, Jesus tells us that when we prepare His way, we are even greater than John the Baptist. We should not take this lightly. We should not think that because we are unable to make the deaf hear and the blind see that there is little we can do to prepare for God’s coming to us in Jesus. Instead, we need to believe that Isaiah surely did not have it wrong – things are different because God sent Jesus to save us. We are different because God became human and taught us how-to live-in love.
And so, we prepare for the coming of Jesus by listening to the Word of God proclaimed – and then acting on the Word. We prepare for the coming of Jesus by sharing in His Body and Blood in the Eucharist – and then sharing that gift with others. We bring comfort and companionship to those who suffer, and they know through us that God is surely with them. They rejoice, and we rejoice as well. We try to be patient in the face of suffering but persistent in doing all we can to alleviate unnecessary suffering. This might mean reconciling with someone who suffers because we refuse to forgive – a difficult, but necessary thing to do if we take seriously the message we hear today.
But we have help to do what is necessary but often difficult. Through the Word and Eucharist, we are given all we need to carry out the tasks on our Advent “to do” list – to rejoice, to be patient, and to be a messenger. By the way, these are not things we do once – or do only for the next two weeks – and then cross them off our list. We are to be messengers of joy and patience all our days, until that final day when we will hear Jesus say, “You are ready. You prepared My way. Come, share in My everlasting joy.”