Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A 2013-14
[Bishop Ron’s past homilies for Year A have been collected in the the book “Teaching the Church Year”, available in ebook format on amazon.com]
Advent is a time of waiting. I thought about this as I waited at the doctor’s office this week for an appointment, and I thought about it again as I waited at the longest traffic light in the world to get on the Dulles Toll Road. I thought about it as I waited for my students to come to me for class. I thought about it as I waited for the rain to stop so I could get to more raking, and as I wait for the last tree leaves to fall from the tree over the house that refuses to give them up. Waiting is really part of our lives and we spend a lot of time doing it. Often, in our culture, which is so busy and rushed, it leads to anger, to road rage, to general anxiety. That isn’t what the waiting in Advent is about, though.
St. James’ antidote to waiting which he mentions a number of times in our second reading today is “patience”. He recognizes that we might have to suffer while we wait, but he says that the virtue of patience will be what gets us through it. St. James was speaking about the second coming of the Lord in this reading, and stressing that we have hope that Christ is coming, so we need to develop patience. Certainly this is good advice for all us whether it is patience in waiting for the Lord or waiting for a traffic light. The result is the same: we trust that what we wait for will come in time, and we must use our waiting time productively by caring for our neighbors.
St. James tells us to look to the Prophets for examples of those who became role models of suffering and patience. The Prophets all had hope that things would get better and it was their job, their destiny to point out the way to others by giving them hope. Consider our reading from Isaiah today. The prophet uses the most optimistic and beautiful language to describe what will happen if we have patience in the Lord. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom…rejoice with joy and singing… they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” Oftentimes we think of prophets as predictors of gloom because they chastise the people for what they are doing wrong and point out their faults. But very often these corrective measures lead to beautiful imagery and stunning visions of a triumphant God and the people of God. And that vision particularly includes people who are most suffering in the present time – the poor, the blind, the mute, the prisoner, the lame. In today’s we reading we end with such a beautiful vision of hope:
“Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
And the ears of the deaf unstopped;
Then the lame shall leap like deer,
And the tongues of the mute sing for joy…
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Is 35:10)
This hope is re-iterated in today’s Psalm, Psalm 146 which also deals with the outcasts – the poor, the blind, the lame, the widow, the prisoner and the orphan. Does this perhaps give us a key to how we should be conducting ourselves in Advent, the time of waiting.Should we be devoting our attention to those less fortunate than ourselves as a way of preparing for the joy of Christmas. It would seem to be the direction of the prophets, the psalmist and Paul!
Our Gospel today is a continuation of stories about John the Baptist, though it jumps eight chapters from last Sunday. And guess what it is about? John, now imprisoned, asks a question of Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” (Matt:11:3) Again it is a question of waiting and whether we need to have even more patience.
Jesus’ answer draws on the Prophets and the Psalmists we heard today. Basically, he says, you don’t have to wait any longer – the blind are receiving sight, the lame are walking, the lepers are healed, the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised and the poor are getting good news. In other words, you don’t have to wait any longer, the time is here now. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies and all the beautiful prophetic images are happening right now.
Two thousand years later, we know that. We know that Christ was the fulfillment of the prophets and that he brought us all salvation and opened up the possibility of heaven to us, to all of us. And yet we still wait. Karl Rahner said in one of his homilies that we are an Advent people, that we live in the future. But we are able to have patience because we know, we believe, that we have been saved. We know what our end will be. We wait for the return of Christ so that the kingdom will come and be the only kingdom, and that all divisions will cease. We should have an even greater hope because we know that the initial work has been done. We are saved. But we await an even greater extension of the kingdom and the complete fulfillment of the justice issues that began with prophetic preaching and continue to this day.
We need to recognize today that although we have all been ransomed, there is still quite a lot of injustice and evil in the world, even though we can see signs of the kingdom in the action of others and hopefully ourselves. But we want the complete fulfillment. We want Christ to come again. And all this we are reminded of when we celebrate the first coming, and we prepare patiently for the remembrance of that event of the Incarnation. And again, how can we best be patient and prepare for that coming? By finding ways to get out of ourselves and give ourselves to others; to do charitable works; to find ways to help another in need; to comfort those who have little or are alone. It is only in this way that you will have a spiritual Christmas. Put as much time into this as you put in selecting Christmas gifts for others, and I promise you, you will truly feel the peace and joy of Christmas. Let the rose vestments I wear today, remind you of the virtues of patience and charity which together lead to the joy which comes at the end of the Advent season.
And this is the Good News that we need to practice and spread every day of the Advent season.
Bishop Ron Stephens
Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese
Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA