The prophet, on fire with the Spirit of the Lord, Heralds the Holy One’s coming. Here the prophet comes, burning, set all ablaze; A fiery brand for all to see, announcing The Advent of the Holy One; The Word comes forth.
We are almost halfway through our Advent journey. Next Sunday, the third candle of joy will be shining on the Advent wreath. Priests and deacons are allowed to wear the traditional rose-colored vestments reserved for the third Sunday (Gaudete - Latin for Rejoice).
Last year at this precise point in time, my family was experiencing a shattering of all things good which were connected to love, peace, and unity. Diseases of biblical proportions, unlike any I had ever seen in hospitals, took residence inside millions of people in every country in our world. They engulfed my family’s world too in painful ways as we spent Advent and Christmas outside in the cold with masks and social distancing. Where was hope? Where was unity? Where were we to turn for shelter, protection, and peace in this bone chilling wilderness?
“Oh Syria, my love I hear your moaning in the cries of the doves. I hear your screaming cry.” Lament for Syria, written by Amineh Abou Kerech, winner of the 2017 Betjeman Poetry Prize for 10–13-year-old.
Stories about St. Nicholas spread from his home in Turkey up to Russia, where he is still a very popular saint. Through the centuries, people passed on stories of him across the most northern parts of Europe, then to Germany, France, and England, and finally to the United States. The children in every country gave St. Nicholas a name in their own language, and in the United States, and other places, he is Santa Claus. Nicholas lived in a seaside town named Myra, which is in the country we now call Turkey. Ever since he was a small child, Nicholas loved God more than anything. He studied hard, prayed often, and followed Jesus by helping the poor. As an adult he was consecrated a Bishop. Nicholas is revered throughout the ages because he loved God and God’s people. His service to the poor often included bringing toys for children.
In this reading, we are given very specific details about the moment that John the Baptist, hearing God’s word to him, began the work to which God had called him. We hear Luke tell us that “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John…in the wilderness.” It was time for John to respond. It was time for him to act. And he did.
Today’s First Reading and Gospel offer us an effective illustration of the inherent tension in the Advent season. In the early days of Advent, we hear many readings having to do with the Kingdom as it will be at the end of time when Christ comes again. However, we also now begin to hear in the Gospel the way in which Christ announces the coming of the Kingdom, not as a far-off event but in the here and now. Rather than being contradictory, these two perspectives of the coming of the Kingdom are intimately connected, and the Advent season is the perfect time to make it concrete in our daily lives.
Advent is pre-eminently the liturgical season of promise and fulfillment. The first scripture for daily Eucharist usually presents the promise and the gospel scripture presents the fulfillment. The promise is often presented in the scriptures taken from the prophecies of Isaiah. The excerpt quoted above from today's first scripture is an example of the promise that in the "day of the Lord" "out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see..." and the gospel scripture features the fulfillment in the restoration of sight to two blind men in the Gospel According to Matthew, a gospel that consistently presents Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Messiah.
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. (Mt 7:24) So too our lives need to be grounded solidly in our relationship with our God. If that relationship is not there, then ultimately our projects will not really be successful. As we enter this new liturgical year, it can be a good time to examine the foundation of all we do and renew our commitment to ground ourselves more deeply on God the rock of our lives.
Jesus is moved by compassion because of his nature as God. He’s attentive to the hungers of people, is aware of their weaknesses, and inspires the disciples to be actively attentive to their needs. Our Lord is never detached of human suffering and is always showing us about the proper way to act.