3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT (A) Dec. 15, 2019

Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10 Psalm 146 James 5: 7-10 Matthew 11: 2-11

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:


In our liturgical celebrations and daily prayer we frequently pray for vocations.

I live in a novitiate community of the Southern Dominican Province, USA.

I can say that I have seen visible evidence that our prayers have been heard, for we have two vibrant novices spending their first year in the Order with us.

Please join us in praying for them as they discern their vocations.

"First Impressions" is a free weekly preaching ministry. If you can help support this ministry, as well as help with the training of our novices, we would appreciate it. Please pray for us, as we do for you, our benefactors, each day.

Send tax deductible checks to:

Dominican Fathers of Irving

3150 Vince Hagan Dr.

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Or: For an online donation go to: https://www.preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

Thank you.

When people are going through a hard time we sometimes search for words to comfort them. "There, there, everything is going to be okay." They probably appreciate our attempts to commiserate with and comfort them. After all, in a truly difficult situation or calamity there often is not much we can do to fix things. So, we speak the most heart-felt and assuring words we can. But in the back of our minds we and the person we are trying to encourage, know they are just words. They don’t have the power to get rid of, or solve the problem. We speak our words and hope for the best.

The Israelites are in Babylonian captivity. Things couldn’t be worse and mere words could not bring much relief. "There, there, everything is going to be okay" – doesn’t cut it. The most powerful nation in the world has enslaved them and mere words are not going to get them out; nor will empty promises give them much to hope for.

But the prophet Isaiah is not speaking to them on his own. He is speaking for God and the promises he is making have God to back them up. He addresses the exiles in images reminiscent of the Exodus. Their Creator God, who led them out of Egyptian bondage and formed them into a chosen people, will do it again for them – another Exodus. God, the Liberator, is coming and going to free them from their oppression. Once again, despite their doubts and temptations to give up on God, they will experience God’s personal love for them.

The people are in a weakened condition, so God is going to make the trip as easy as possible. The parched desert will be transformed for them and bloom. The people will be restored; feeble hands strengthened and weakened knees steadied. More than physical strength will be given them, for the frightened-of-heart will be emboldened. How could the enslaved exiles not be encouraged, they will have their mighty Creator accompanying them! God is coming, the prophet announces, you have nothing to fear!

The prophet is promising salvation for the people. Notice what is envisioned, not just an inner spiritual rebirth. Salvation will encompass all of creation; nature will be transformed; people’s flagging bodies restored and they will be made fully whole. The blind will see, the deaf hear and the mute will sing.

The way out of slavery is a holy highway, a direct and freeing road with no detours, or delays. You can almost see the jumping, skipping freed slaves on that God-prepared road. It looks like a jubilant religious procession and so it is, with God leading the way home to safety and a new future.

We used to call today "Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday." Note the Entrance Antiphon from Philippians (4:4-5): "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near." We might despair if we were left on our own in our own guilt and captivity. What could we do for ourselves? But we can celebrate, "Rejoice Sunday" because, "The Lord is near." Or, as Isaiah points out, "Here is your God, who comes with vindication...." Our just God is going to set things right. That should give us hope and determination to continue (or, begin!") our efforts to set right the things in the world around us. We are not relying on our own efforts, because God is close, "Here is your God."

Jesus obviously knew today’s quote from Isaiah for he referred to it when he responded to the question put to him by the emissaries of John the Baptist: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" Jesus doesn’t just quote biblical passages, he points to the tangible signs that give him authenticity. People then and now, didn’t need pious words and best wishes to free them from their captivity: they needed visible proof that the promises God made through the prophet were actually coming to pass.

One of my chief delights in giving parish retreats is the people I meet – good people who are trying to live as prophetic signs of the kingdom of God’s presence in the world. Though they would probably not describe themselves in such terms! In any of these parishes one might meet: a middle aged, single mother who is also caring for her mentally challenged 50-year-old brother; a lawyer who took a huge pay cut to take cases for undocumented immigrants; a mother and father who take their three children to the parish pantry to give food to the poor. Plus, all the many every-day good people who like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, see a person in need, are moved with compassion and do something to help.

They, like Jesus, manifest visible signs that the day Isaiah promised has begun when: the eyes of the blind would be opened, the ears of the deaf cleared, the lame leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute sing. While all that Isaiah promised has not yet come to fulfillment, Jesus has begun to lead us along the "holy highway" on our journey home to our God. Along the processional way, God’s Spirit is with us and so we have already seen visible results that salvation has begun for us. In Jesus we have the promise that we will enter the holy city, "leaping like stags" to be "crowned with everlasting joy." Our sorrow will be no more.

Can we trust those words and our God who backs them up, to sustain us when the "highway" we travel in life doesn’t feel so "holy" but, instead, filled with potholes and cracks like a neighborhood street in Chicago after a particularly cruel winter?

John the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus for authenticating signs to prove he is the one whose arrival they have been anticipating and whom John has been announcing in his preaching. We, the members of Christ’s body, are called to be a messianic people who take the prophet’s and Jesus’ promises seriously enough to put flesh on them in our daily lives. We demonstrate that their words are believable and livable and not just pious and pat-on-the back empty words.

Just as Jesus was faithful to his mission, the Spirit makes us faith-filled witnesses. Like Jesus we can bring about a revolution in thinking, judging and acting in a non–violent way. We can offer loving service to one another, even to accepting the pain and many dyings that accompany such service. We can meet the evils of the world and heal them and persevere in hope – even when the concrete signs of our discipleship are not always obvious, or when they seem defeated.

We are a messianic people who pray today to be faithful signs to the world that the ancient longings of an exiled people have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We try to follow Jesus’ example so that we can also say to others what Jesus said to validate his witness, "Go and tell [others] what you hear and see, the blind see... etc."

People will never believe us until they can see our lives as authentic sign of Jesus’ on-going presence in the world: until they see us guiding the footsteps of the blind; carrying, or car-pooling the crippled to places where they can receive help; finding ways to help the voice of the poor be heard. To the question of inquirers, "Was Jesus the one who was to come?" The witness of our lives should be a resounding, "Yes!"

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: