Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Book of Isaiah is the source of this weekend’s first reading.
Isaiah was between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. He realized that unwise alliances and behavior that forgot God put the Hebrews’ kingdom of Judah at great risk. The prophet was convinced that if the nation did not return to God in genuine obedience and piety, then the whirlwind eventually would sweep away life as he and his contemporaries knew it.
He met dispute and outrage. It must have been frustrating, but despite the angry reaction to what he said on the part of many people around him, Isaiah unflinchingly called the people to God. It was not as if God would bring a terrible punishment upon the kingdom. Rather, the people, by their impiety, would create a nightmare for themselves.
The Epistle to James supplies the second reading. This epistle rarely appears in the liturgy. The identity of the author is unclear. The New Testament mentions four men with this name. Which, if any, wrote this epistle?
Regardless, this reading solidly establishes the author’s faith that Jesus will be victorious. No power can exceed the power of the Lord. After all, the Lord is the Son of God.
While final victory undoubtedly will come, it will not necessarily come at a time when humans predict, and certainly it will not come at their bidding. The great day nevertheless will come. God will prevail.
So, the epistle urges strong faith, but also forbearance.
The third reading, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, centers on John the Baptist, whose denunciations of sin in high places led to his arrest. (In time, they led to his death.)
Despising the Roman occupation of the land, pious Jews at this time yearned for a Messiah who would rid the Holy Land of the pagan intruders, for whom Herod was a stooge.
John gave another description of the Redeemer. He saw the Savior not as a warrior, commanding armies to slaughter the enemies of the One God of Israel, but the compassionate, truly holy leader of the pious.
Jesus met this description: healing the sick, giving hope, and restoring life, lovingly coming to earth as Son of God.
In the last verses, Jesus affirms that John is a prophet. In response, John insists Jesus is the greatest prophet.
Advent is approaching its close. Since Christmas is near, the Church looks ahead to the wonder of the Lord’s birth. This is “Gaudete Sunday”, using a title taken from the first word of the Introit in Latin, “Gaudete!”, or “Rejoice!”
Priests may wear rose vestments this weekend instead of violet, as if the rays of dawn are already brightening Advent’s somberness.
The readings make several points. Isaiah warned us as he warned his contemporaries that by sin we bring heartache upon ourselves. By sinning, we weave the cloth of our own misery. God never brings death. He brings life, just as Jesus brought life.
Advent penance and prayer hopefully lead us to follow Christ. The liturgy presumes that we are using Advent to our advantage. If we center our lives on Christ, then our love for God and for others will brighten the darkness and terror of our times. It is that simple – and inevitable.
Advent is the opportunity to fortify and focus Christian resolve.
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