Saturday, November 9, 2013

Homily - 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)


First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10           Second Reading: James 5:7-10            Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:2-11


When Einstein fled Nazi Germany, he came to America and bought an old two-story house within walking distance of Princeton University. There he entertained some of the most distinguished people of his day and discussed with them issues as far ranging as physics to human rights.
But Einstein had another frequent visitor. She was not, in the world's eyes, an important person like his other guests. She was a ten-year-old girl named Emmy. Emmy heard that a very kind man who knew a lot about mathematics had moved into her neighborhood. Since she was having trouble with her fifth-grade arithmetic, she decided to visit the man down the block and see if he would help her with her problems. Einstein was very willing and explained everything to her so that she could understand it. He also told her she was welcome to come anytime she needed help.
A few weeks later, one of the neighbors told Emmy's mother that Emmy was often seen entering the house of the world-famous physicist. Horrified, she told her daughter that Einstein was a very important man, whose time was very valuable, and he couldn’t be bothered with the problems of a little schoolgirl. And then she rushed over to Einstein’s house, and when Einstein answered the door, she started trying to blurt out an apology for her daughter's intrusion – for being such a bother. But Einstein cut her off. He said, “She has not been bothering me! When a child finds such joy in learning, then it is my joy to help her learn! Please don’t stop Emmy from coming to me with her school problems. She is welcome in this house anytime.”
Yes, if it is joy for us to welcome Jesus into our hearts today, then it is Jesus' joy to welcome us into his Father's house at the end of times.

We are in the Holy Season of Advent and it is basically a penitential period. And therefore, the color of the vestments, as in Lent, is purple or violet. It is a time when we are invited through prayer and fasting or some other form of self-denial to prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas by a genuine experience of repentance and renewal. However, in Advent as in Lent, the Church cannot refrain from 'jumping the gun,' so to speak, by anticipating, if only briefly, the coming mood of celebration.
Now, today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. In the tradition of the Liturgical calendar, the 3rd Sunday in Advent is often called “Gaudete Sunday.” 'Gaudete' means 'rejoice' in Latin. It comes from the first word of today's Entrance antiphon. Having passed the midpoint of Advent, our joy gets more and more intense as we advance in our journey of faith. The spirit of joy that begins this week comes from the words of St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” This joyful spirit is marked by the third candle of our Advent wreath, which is 'rose colored,' and the 'rose colored' vestments are often used at the Eucharist, because they represent a lightening of the dark violet of the rest of the penitential season of Advent. They remind us of the color of the sky at the very brink of morning, when the sun is just beginning to come up. The horizon takes on a pale rose color that gradually gets redder and brighter as the sun rises. For faithful Christians, life is like a “long sunrise,” and death is the entrance into the bright, “everlasting day” of eternal life. This is the reason why this Sunday is also called “Rose Sunday.”

The liturgical texts of this Third Sunday of Advent are about the coming of the Messiah and they are a hymn of joy. In the First Reading the prophet Isaiah announces that he will come; In the Gospel Reading the Evangelist Matthew tells us that he has come; And in the Second Reading the Apostle James tells us that he will come again. All the three Scripture Readings give the message of hope that fills us with joy. Joy is the theme of today and therefore we gladly say, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.”

In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we have a Messianic prophesy and it is bursting at the seams with joy. It echoes the anticipation of God’s chosen people. The Jews in Exile are experiencing the harshness of God's anger. In the midst of catastrophe, Isaiah proclaims hope and it gives us the vision of what this joy, this salvation will look like. Isaiah is particularly moving and beautiful in the imagery that he uses to portray the coming of our God. Israel´s return from exile reflects a second Exodus, a deliverance whereby God 'comes with vindication.' The Almighty has ransomed his people again. Isaiah depicts the joyful advent of the Lord as a healing, transforming event that affects both creation and humankind. The healing of the parched land and the blooming of the desert express the newness and glory that the advent of God would bring. In particular we have the images of physical healing that God will come to bring – once more the weak hands and feeble knees will be made strong, the blind will see again, the deaf will hear again, the lame will walk again and the dumb will speak again. There will be no more sorrow or mourning because our God is coming to take all that away. Through all these liberating actions, the glory of the Lord is being revealed for all to see. These actions are referenced in today’s gospel as Matthew seeks to identify and explain the saving and liberating purpose of Jesus’ Messiah-ship.

In the Gospel Reading of today taken from St. Matthew we find ourselves at the mid-point in Jesus’ ministry. This passage given to us is about discovering the identity of Jesus as well as that of John the Baptist. We find John the Baptist in prison. He has been arrested for denouncing King Herod Antipas for divorcing his wife and marrying his brother's wife afterward.
a) “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
While in prison, John hears about things Jesus has been doing, but he has not personally witnessed them. And what hears is the complete opposite of what he thought about the Messiah. John knows that he is the precursor to the Messiah and he does not fully know that Jesus is the real Messiah. From his prison cell, John seeks a word of assurance. To clear his doubt, he sends some of his disciples to Jesus with a question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
The question that John the Baptist sends from prison intrigues us. Did he harbor doubts about whether Jesus was the Messiah? Or was he asking for the sake of his own disciples? After all, he had already proclaimed Jesus at the River Jordan and said he was not worthy to unloose the thongs of Jesus’ sandals. It is also possible that John too was expecting a messiah who was more aggressive than Jesus was. Jesus did not do that nor did he fulfill other commonly held expectations about which the Messiah would be and what he would do.
b) “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”
John might have expected a straightforward reply. But Jesus does not offer a clear yes or no response to John’s question. Instead, drawing mostly from the Prophet Isaiah which we hear in the First Reading today, Jesus describes the Messianic age as having begun with his preaching and his works. He informs the disciples of John to go back and tell what they heard and saw namely, the blind have their sight restored, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is being proclaimed to the poor. They are to identify the Messiah through his word and deeds. Indeed, Jesus' miracles of healing have attracted great public attention and have given the people a sense of great joy and hope, an enduring theme of Advent.
c) “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
John the Baptist had been expecting a violent judgment day. It would be initiated by the coming Messiah with fire. He must have been amazed and confused when the pacifist Jesus did not match his expectations. But more than just making John re-examine his understanding of the Messiah, Jesus wanted Him to consider his healing and preaching of the good news to the poor as his credentials for being the Messiah. For in these messianic acts the prophecies were being fulfilled and thus the time of salvation was at hand. This is the reason why Jesus further added, "Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me." The message of Jesus to John is, ‘Yes I am indeed the Messiah. But please do not loose faith in me if all your expectations are not met; open your generous heart to the ways of God that define Israel’s faith, and you will recognize that I am truly the one who was to come.’
d) “What did you go out to the desert to see?”
After establishing his own identity and what might have seemed like a rebuke to John the Baptist, Jesus offers a strong affirmation. There are a few men to whom Jesus paid so tremendous a tribute as he did to John the Baptist. Jesus says that John was a prophet and yet more than a prophet. He is not a "reed shaken by the wind," nor 'someone dressed in fine clothes,' that is, one swayed by earthly comforts or diverted from the path of discipline. Rather, Jesus views John as the great prophet of Isaiah who preaches repentance to Israel in the spirit of Elijah and offers God's faithful remnant a final opportunity for salvation. Making reference to the prophet Malachi, Jesus declares that John is the precursor to the Messiah. Malachi said this in reference to the role of Elijah who was to return before the coming of the final time. John now assumes that role. John the Baptist is presented by Jesus as one of the greatest persons ever born. Jesus climaxes his praise of John by pronouncing 'of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen.' This recognizes John as the greatest of the Old Covenant prophets.

The Second Reading of today from the Letter of St. James reminds Christians to be patient until the second and final coming of the Lord, at the end of times. He tells them that waiting for Christ’s coming requires patience. He asks them to have patience that does not lose hope, no matter how hard is the situation. The Lord’s coming is likened to the 'precious fruit of the earth' patiently awaited by the farmer. The mystery of the Lord’s coming, with its fruit of 'healing joy,' unfolds slowly and progressively in the vast field of salvation history. As the farmer patiently waits for the autumn and spring rains and the precious crops that the watered earth would bring, so too we must keep our hopes high and be patient till the Lord is come.
Patience! Perseverance! That’s the theme. Too often, patience is thought of as a passive posture toward life which is assumed by the person who thinks he/she has exhausted all his/her other options and has no choice but to be resigned to a given situation. On the contrary, patience is a passion motivated by love and expressed in endurance. James’ words continue to speak a wise and practical lesson for believers. He asks for a patience that is strong and at the same time gentle. It is a patience that is not supine and passive but very active. It is a patience that manifests a quiet, everyday sort of strength. Today we are reminded to be patient people, viz. passionately motivated by love and willing to endure until the Lord comes.

Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice! The Lord is near.” There is such beauty and richness in the Scripture Readings chosen for this second Sunday of Advent. The theme is twofold: God is coming to save us, so, we must be filled with joy and must patiently prepare ourselves for the arrival by repenting and turning ourselves around. Our Advent is both a nostalgic event and one which also looks forward to a future glory.
In this Advent season of grace, we are being asked to focus on the messianic signs of healing and goodness that surround us. The Advent liturgy of today invites us to open our hearts to the 'miracles of life' wrought by Jesus Christ. They give us great comfort and joy and enable us to experience an exquisite flowering in the desert of our soul if only we are open to grace. As people of Advent expectation, today we are called to be sensitive to the mystery of the 'healing joy' and to be efficacious bearers of Christian joy. As the Opening Prayer suggests, we need to 'experience the joy of salvation' – that power of healing and wholeness which Jesus can bring into our lives. This is something each one of us has to do and what we as a community also have to do. And this is the Good News of today.

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