Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35: 1-6; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11

The third Sunday of Advent, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, summons us to the joy that accompanies our encounter with Christ during this Advent season. The prophet Isaiah drew on nature to describe the transformation of those who make ready to welcome the promised Messiah at his coming. The joy that he described is equally a description of the joy that awaits us as the Spirit leads us into the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Isaiah spoke of wasteland and wilderness breaking into bloom, rejoicing to welcome the glory of God. These powerful images describe different aspects of sinful humanity in its journey to God. Without God we become a wilderness, a wasteland in which faith, hope and love have begun to die. Advent, a time of waiting, affords us the opportunity to acknowledge that we can so easily become what the psalmist describes: a dry, weary land without water.

As nature awaits the spring rains, so we await the coming of Our Lord. It is not our own efforts, but his coming, that awakens within us the joy that has seemed to die. Advent is a summons that understands our frailty, that transforms our weakness with a strength that comes from God himself.
“Strengthen all wary hands, and say to all faint hearts: courage, do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming.”

Sadly, we can allow the wonder of Isaiah’s words to pass us by. We become the victims of a natural despondency, a reluctance to commit ourselves to the new beginning that Christ’s coming heralds. We become the blind, insensitive to Christ’s presence among us, the lame who cannot reach out to meet him, the dumb who cannot speak his name in prayer and anticipation.

The prophet Isaiah understood and experienced such despondency in his own generation. His response was to anticipate the joy that would accompany the promised Messiah.

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy. Joy and gladness will go with them, and sorrow and lament be ended.”

The Gospel presents us with the imprisoned John the Baptist. His ministry was drawing to its conclusion. The crowds had heeded his call to repentance, had abandoned the sinful ways that hindered Christ’s coming. Only one thing remained: to commit themselves to the Christ whose presence would bring new life to their wilderness. For this reason the imprisoned John made anxious enquiries of Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?”

Jesus, using the familiar words of Isaiah, proclaimed himself to be the fulfilment of the ancient promises. “Go and tell John that the blind see again, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the dead are raised to life.” In the days ahead let us welcome Christ with eyes that see as he sees, with lives that walk in his ways, with hearts raised to new life in his love.

The letter of St James calls us to the inner patience that prepares the way for Christ. “Be patient, do not lose heart, do not make complaints against each other.” For many the Christmas festivities can become an exhausting burden that stretches relationships to breaking point. Let us heed the Apostle’s words. “Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.”