Third Sunday of Advent (2016)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
I imagine most Catholics, at least those who follow the liturgical year with some attention, will list the following times as their favorites: Christmas, of course, for obvious reasons; Easter because spring invites new life, spiritually and seasonally. Few will place Lent in first place, again for obvious reasons.
To my mind, however, there is one season (my favorite one of all) that gets squeezed out every year and that is Advent. The reason, I think this is so, is because it is only four weeks in length and it is overshadowed by Christmas and all the activities that occur during Advent. Moreover, it is often described simply as a time of preparation or even a time of waiting…waiting for Christmas, obviously. Let me suggest though that this attitude is short sighted and misses some of the most beautiful scriptures, poetry and music of the entire liturgical year. Advent has its own meaning and importance and it has little to do with Christmas. Rather, it is a unique time for us to reflect on time or more specifically on “end-time” on the mystery of time that is still left for us to think about; the advent of Christ’s coming, not only in time and in history but in eternity. Obviously, that is a rather difficult concept to wrap our minds around. We do not like to think very much about the end of anything, especially the end of everything that we have become so used to in life.
Let us turn then to each of the three Advent Scriptures for this Third Sunday of the season and see what hopeful truths they offer.
The first selection comes from the Eighth Century B.C. poet, Isaiah. He is writing for his own people who are in desert exile. He assures them that some day their exile, like the sand of the desert itself will turn to spring. It will bloom with abundant flowers. Joyful song will be heard ringing across the dunes. Some day they will see the glory and splendor of their God. When that time appears all life will be renewed like spring: “The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared, the tongue of the dumb will sing…sorrow and mourning will flee.”
This is what life in the world will look like when the Christ of the ages will finally appear. Obviously Isaiah is speaking here in poetic terms, in metaphor of a period of time without end much to be hoped for. It is the way in which God imagines a world that could be and ought to be but is not yet, not a dry desert without hope but a time where we can imagine life itself as spring, water flowing abundantly in the draws, flowers springing from the earth.
This then is the first Advent lesson: As we await the coming of the Lord of eternity let us make life on this earth resemble an eternal spring.
Saint James, brother of the Lord, follows up on Isaiah’s nature metaphor. “As you await the coming of the Lord amidst the sufferings of this present age, do not grumble against one another; be patient, my brothers patient like the farmer who awaits the precious yield of the soil.”
This is the second Advent lesson: the coming of the Lord of eternity takes time. In the meantime, be patient and make the Lord’s presence happen now by your good works.
Finally, in the gospel of Matthew we notice that John the Baptist in prison is also struggling with the question of time and the Messiah’s coming. He instructs his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he is indeed the Messiah or whether they should look for someone else. When asked, Jesus dodges the question by simply telling them to look around: “the blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are being raised to life and the poor have the good news preached to them. In short, Jesus answer is that the end times have already arrived. When you see these things happening in the world you will not need to look for someone else.
So, that is the third Advent lesson: as we wait we discover that end times have arrived. Christ invites all of us to bring Christ’s coming about each day by performing the acts that he did but in our own personal human ways. If we are determined to do all this there will no need to ask any more questions about the Lord’s coming. The Lord of history and eternity has arrived. By the way, all that is why I appreciate Advent so much when it rolls around each year!
The Scriptures: Isaiah 35: 1-6, 10 • James 5: 7-10 • Matthew 11: 2-11
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Third Sunday of Advent