3rd Sunday of Advent
Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense; he comes to save you.
The challenge to the faith of the chosen people caused by their centuries of waiting, waiting, waiting for the coming of the Lord, the coming of their God, who “comes to save” his people, is surely something we Christians should be able to appreciate after our own centuries of waiting for the return of our Lord in glory. Our faith also is challenged by this long waiting, for more than twenty centuries, for the second great coming of the Lord. As with God’s first chosen people, so our faith can be strained, perhaps even fearfully wearied, so that we may no longer really find ourselves waiting, that is, waiting in the sense of longing for, anticipating the great day when Christ will return in glory.
The season of Advent and the season of Christmas as well are intended to rekindle that powerful longing that we should carry in our hearts for the Lord to fulfill His promise, and come again to deliver us from evil, all the evils of this world including the evil of our own sins. Christmas recalls with great joy the first coming of Christ our light, the promised one who came to us not in glory but in the humility and weakness of a child born into the poverty of this world.
Advent, on the other hand, recalls the long period of waiting, often in anxiety, for that blessed event to occur. The prophet Isaiah portrays the great longing of Israel for the Messiah who would come with recompense for those who were waiting faithfully, to save them from this world and its evils. This prophecy brought Israel both joy and hope. And yet, when he came, he came in a most unexpected way, not in glory, crushing the enemies of Israel and bringing earthly glory to His people, but in weakness and humility. And sadly, after so long a wait, the people of God were largely unprepared for His coming because it happened in this quite unexpected way.
So true is this that John the Baptist, while in prison, sends envoys to Jesus, perhaps to reassure his disciples, if not himself, that Jesus is indeed the One sent by God as the promised Messiah. John has heard of his great miracles, the signs that fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that the Messiah would open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, and make the crippled leap like stags and he knows that Jesus has even raised the dead to life! So Jesus seemed to be more than fulfilling that aspect of the Messianic prophecy, but when was the glorious triumph over his enemies going to happen along with the terrible judgement finally separating the good and the bad?
Whether it was John who was seeking reassurance, or John was simply sending his disciples to be themselves reassured, or both, we really do not know. But Jesus himself knew that he indeed was a stumbling block to many because he was meek and gentle of heart, and not a warrior reeking judgement on the evil men of this world. So many were scandalized because they were really not ready for Him to appear in this manner, even though they longed for his coming, like the foolish virgins whose oil ran out before the Bridegroom returned.
So we too now await His coming, but a coming that will not be in weakness. He will surely come this second time in glory to judge the living and the dead, but, once again, not to establish an earthly kingdom, but the Heavenly Kingdom that will never end. And we Christians too can grow weary and become unprepared for his second coming just as the people who lived at the time of his first coming. That is why James, in the second reading, warns us to cultivate the virtue of patience: “Be patient my brothers until the coming of the Lord.” Steady your hearts, he says, for the judge stands at the very gate. Only this time he will come not in his former weakness and humility, but in all the glory of God’s only Son, and we will be delivered by Him, if only we are longing and ready for his coming.
Week after week in Advent, and year after year of Advents, we hear this exhortation, to wake up, to make ready the way of the Lord. And still so many Christians are basically unprepared, unconcerned with anything except the material side of Christmas, indeed, the material side of life itself. And when the Lord comes this second time, many will be unprepared for his coming, and for the way in which he comes. It may well be the reverse situation of the way most of His people of Israel were unprepared for his first coming. They expected a glorious, triumphant king, but he came hidden in weakness and humility, and they were unprepared for that kind of Messiah. People, perhaps most people living at his second coming will be expecting a weak and non-judgmental Christ to arrive, a Christ who will simply overlook their sins and their lack of interest in Him or His coming. They will be horrified then as Israel was scandalized earlier, because He will surely come in the glory of God to judge the world with justice, and fulfill every last word of the prophets regarding divine retribution and divine justice, while showing mercy to those who have longed for his coming and are truly prepared to meet Him.
Advent and Christmas then are gifts from our God, gifts extended through His Church, to awaken us from our slumber, a kind of spiritual alarm, stirring us from the laziness or indifference that can arise from the long waiting for his coming. Now is the time to prepare, now is the season of God’s grace and mercy, the time of salvation. The rose candle on our Advent wreath is the symbol of the joy this season of promise and the Coming Christmas season should bring us all. But in truth, we will experience that great joy only to the degree that we place these two liturgical seasons carefully within the perspective of the second coming of Christ, and appropriately prepare ourselves to go out and greet him with joy, the greatest joy that at last His promises are totally fulfilled.