Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
they will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.
Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another,
that you may not be judged.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
As they were going off,
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John,
“What did you go out to the desert to see?
A reed swayed by the wind?
Then what did you go out to see?
Someone dressed in fine clothing?
Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.
Then why did you go out? To see a prophet?
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom it is written:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way before you.
Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks an encouraging word to the people of Israel about the restoration of Jerusalem. Israel is not a land blessed with many rivers, so the people rely on rain to water the land. Drought and famine are constant threats. At the time of Isaiah’s preaching, Israel was a people of dry faith. Many had lost their way. The kingdom of Israel had been conquered, and foreign powers threatened the kingdom of Judah. Hope in a Messiah was fading.
Amid this dryness, Isaiah preached a prophecy of hope in the restoration of Jerusalem. The desert would be transformed into an oasis: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.” Not only would the parched land bloom, but the people themselves will be rejuvenated: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” These are the signs the people will see when God restores Jerusalem, when He comes to save us. The people need only have faith, to keep their hope alive that God would be their vindication: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, … he comes to save you.”
When Jesus is questioned by John whether He is the Messiah or if they await another, Jesus does not answer John directly. Rather He points to the signs He performs, the same signs Isaiah tells the people of Israel to look for when the Lord comes to save them: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
The is the preaching of Advent. We await the Lord’s coming. We await the day when the blind will see, and the deaf will hear. Until that day, we strengthen our hands and make firm our knees. We see with the light of Christ, and we hear the good news preached. We walk by faith, and our souls, dead to sin, are given new life by God’s mercy.
In his letter, James counsels us: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord … Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” The word “patience” derives from the Latin patientia, which means “endurance,” from pati, which means “to suffer.” James calls us to endure in the faith, to suffer what to us seems the long delay of Christ to return for His faithful ones and announce the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.
We can practice this patience in our daily lives. The Lord knows, there are plenty of opportunities, and there will be even more opportunities to practice patience when the relatives arrive for Christmas dinner! Patience is a virtue, and it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with love, joy, kindness, gentleness, and others. Christian patience is enduring with gratitude, knowing that the Lord is coming. While we await His coming, we make our waiting endurable by practicing love, joy, kindness, gentleness, etc… In other words, we work at becoming holy. What is holiness but to learn each day to love God and our neighbor a little better – each day, every day, learning to love a little better. In this effort, we can turn to the prophets and the saints as models of patient endurance and holiness.
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice.” We are rejoicing because we know that the Lord is near. We light the rose-colored candle, and we wear rose colored vestments as a sign of our rejoicing. While we await His coming, He gives us opportunities to practice patient endurance – to endure in our faith, sometimes in the face of ridicule and hostility, to endure with joy the faults of others and our own, and to learn each day how to love a little better and so strive toward holiness.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.