Third 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 of his contemporaries, Isaiah unflinchingly called the people back 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, and it leads to another question. The New Testament mentions four men with this name. Which, if any, wrote this epistle?
Some insist that James, the foster brother of the Lord, was the author. This begets the other question: Did Mary have other children?
Ancient Christian writers surmised that James, in this reference, was a son from a previous marriage of Joseph, the eventual spouse of Mary. They reasoned that this must have been the case because they believed, as the Church does today, that Mary had only one child, namely Jesus.
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.
However, while final victory undoubtedly will come, it will not necessarily come at a time that humans predict, and certainly it will not come at their bidding. But it will come. 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 would lead 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. 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 and guide of the pious.
Jesus met this description, healing the sick, giving hope and restoring life, lovingly coming to earth as God.
In the last verses, Jesus affirms that John is a prophet. In fact, John insists, Jesus is the greatest prophet.
Ancient cultures often found the dawn awe-inspiring and also reassuring. As the sun creeps over the horizon, the sky presents a marvelous sight. It is not a sudden transition from utter darkness to bright light. Instead, everything changes to a gentle rose.
In the spectrum of color, rose is the blending of red and yellow. Pink is different. It combines red and white. Traditionally, priests wear rose-colored vestments on this weekend — never pink — to remind us that the bright light of Christ is about to burst upon the horizon of our world. It is overwhelming to consider. God so loved the world that He sent His Son to us to give us life.
As in days of old, when the reappearance of the sun showed that all would be good, so Christians are reassured that they are secure. Jesus lives. He is with them.
Each of us sins. Each is imperfect. Advent is the opportunity to create a dawn within our hearts, and we invite Christ to come to brighten our lives.
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