Waiting Joyfully – Third Sunday of Advent (A)

It is easy for me to fall into a habit of complaining, or of waiting impatiently, and to somehow imagine that today’s sufferings, my sufferings, are the greatest of all sufferings.

Perhaps they are, although I don’t see any of us yet who are, like John, imprisoned for speaking up for marriage. Even when that day comes again, I’m willing to bet there’s someone who’s had it worse.

It’s not about comparative badness, though, where the best I can say is that at least it’s not the worst it’s ever been.

This third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, reminds me that I ame to wait joyfully.

Isaiah and the psalmist promise that the coming messiah will bring to each the thing they need and desire most, and Jesus says “Look! I’m doing it now!”

Am I blind? I am promised sight.

Am I deaf? I am promised hearing.

Am I lame? I will leap.

Am I mute? I will sing.

Am I oppressed? Justice.

Hungry? Food.

Bowed down? Uplifted.

Just? Love.

A stranger alone? Protection.

Unable to provide for myself? Sustenance.

A prisoner? Freedom.

Poor? Good news.

Whatever it is we need and desire most, that’s what the coming of the savior brings. It’s better than we dream, and better even than the promise; nobody ever promised lepers would be cleansed or the dead raised, but they were.

It’s hard to wait.

It’s harder to wait patiently and without complaint.

It’s even harder to wait with joy.

Thankfully, our waiting is easier because the promised gifts are already ours, in various forms, and to varying degrees.

Some are spiritually present, such as the food for our hungry soul we receive the Eucharist.

Some are intellectually present, such as having our blindness lifted so that we see and understand things in new ways.

Some are emotionally present, such as being cured of our brokenness, addictions, or depression so that we can leap and dance and sing again.

We don’t have them all in fullness yet, but we have more than a taste.

Scholars have argued from almost the moment Christian scholars existed about why John sends his disciples to ask if he’s the one who is to come.

Perhaps he was hoping to cash in on that promise of freedom for the prisoner.

Perhaps he was perplexed that the promises were not all fulfilled in the way he expected.

Perhaps he needed some consolation as he went through the darkness of being imprisoned for speaking out to say marriage is what marriage always was.

Perhaps John wanted his disciples to see and believe what he saw and believed, so they could hope in the one in whom he placed his hope. I think I lean towards this last option, along with Saints Jerome, Hilary and Ambrose.

Whatever his intentions, John sent his disciples to see Jesus, and they came away believing.

Like John, I am called to help others see Jesus so they can come away believing.

We receive these gifts, and they should help us to wait joyfully, but we are called not only to receive them, but, as the body of Christ,  to distribute them.

We are called to help others know the blessing of receiving and recognizing these gifts already present as we wait with joyful patience for the day we’ll receive them all in fullest measure.

This Advent, I want to be more sensitive to the needs of those around me, and be a “little Christ” by showing kindness in meeting those needs.


I Hope So – Second Sunday of Advent

The readings for this second Sunday of Advent presents me with a timely reminder of how important it is that I grow in the virtue of hope.

Isaiah describes a stump, not the tree, of Jesse. God promised a descendant of David would reign forever, and that promise seemed to have failed. The tree of Jesse was cut down when the Davidic lineage was cut off and the heirs killed or carried away captive. No clear path remained to offer a reasonable hope that the kingdom could be restored. To be quite frank, there was no reason for hope.

And that is exactly why hope is a virtue.

There’s little virtue in hope when the stars are aligned and circumstances render inevitable the object of our hope.

It is when the tree is chopped down, and we have every reason for discouragement and even to despair that hope becomes clearly virtuous.

This hope is the helmet of our salvation, offering protection for our mind and thoughts when we are assaulted by doubts and fears. It allows us to rejoice and be patient in tribulation. The Catechism teaches us that the virtue of hope “keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment.” (CCC 1818)

Hope is not only internal, self-centered, and protective, however. The Catechism continues… “it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”

This gift of hope that causes us to desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our ultimate happiness makes us better neighbors by opening our hearts, and preserving us from selfishness.

Jesus speaks of wheat and chaff.

People who don’t know anything about grain sometimes get confused about this separation of the wheat from the chaff, thinking that surely they are wheat, and others must be the chaff, and that the wheat and chaff are related to one another the same way as fruitful and unfruitful trees.

When Jesus speaks of wheat and chaff, he is not primarily addressing different type of people, however, but different parts of the fruit of one plant.

The chaff is the dry, scaly protective covering over the tender kernel of wheat. It’s the boll around the cotton. Perhaps it is good to light a fire, or as part of cotton burr compost if your stripper is older or broken, but it is only in the way when it comes to the harvest.

I need to be purified by this hope, preserved from selfishness, and led to the happiness that flows from charity. I need to have my hard, dry scaly protective covering removed, so that the Lord can make use of my fruitfulness.

I don’t have to.

I can refuse to risk hope, staying closed to others, and keeping my hard, dry, protective covering.

It’s safe. I’m safe.

But the cost of doing so is that the good things God’s growing in me, my fruit, is inaccessible.

It is hard to imagine a world in which there is both justice AND peace, and where the predator/victim relationship is exchanged for something entirely peaceful, not just reversed so that lambs gnaw on wolf bones.

It is difficult to contemplate the possibility that we might learn to think in harmony and glorify God together. Not monotony, mind you, but harmony.

Do we even dare to dream of a world where we are open and welcoming, and don’t merely tolerate one another even to those who we might perceive as our enemies?

Am I courageous enough to allow God to open me up to my neighbor?

I hope so.

Actively preparing for Christ’s coming (1st Sunday of Advent)

Jesus is coming soon.

When I was a child and a young man, I heard this over and over. From the early 80’s, when I first began to pay attention, I heard various pseudo-scholars prophesy and attempt to explain how Jesus would be here by 1992, or 2000, but certainly not later than 2003, and then everything would change, because Jesus would be king of the world.

As a child and a young man, unconsciously overwhelmed by the burden of growing up and of the tribulation to come, and with a young man’s tendency towards laziness, these apocalyptic prophecies had an unintended consequence.

I wasn’t like the Romans Paul addresses, drunk and licentious, but I was like those Jesus describes in the Gospel readings for this first Sunday of Advent. I was eating and drinking and going to school and to work, just getting through life while I waited for his return. I was pretty sure that since I wasn’t like those people in Romans, he would have mercy upon me, and I’d probably be ok when he finally showed up, so I didn’t take my spiritual life all that seriously, either.

Somehow, I decided that since Jesus is coming soon, I didn’t need to plan for my future, or set and work towards goals. Jesus is coming soon, although we don’t know when, so what’s the point of working towards anything, since soon none of it will matter anyway?

But it does matter, and we are called not to wait passively, but to actively watch and prepare to greet him. Advent is pointless, if we don’t use it to prepare for Christ’s coming, and Christmas is worthless (or at least worth less) if we don’t use it to welcome the Christ.

Isaiah tells us (Isaiah 2) that the Lord will judge and impose terms on the nations, but it is still up to the people to beat their own swords into those plowshares, to put plow to earth, then plant, tend, and harvest.

The psalmist points out that the pilgrim must go up to the city God established, and upon arriving, give thanks and pray for the peace and good of the city. (Psalm 122)

Paul told the Romans (Romans 13) to wake up, and not just set aside the excesses of sin, but throw off darkness and take up light. He calls us to actively participate in being transformed to be like Christ.

Jesus himself told us (Matthew 24:37-44) to stay awake and alert, and prepare for his return. He tells us that to be saved, we do not need to meet any special conditions, or to be in a special position in life: we simply have to be faithful to the Lord in the middle of ordinary everyday affairs. It is in the context of these ordinary affairs of life — business, farmwork, housework, school, play, worship, etc. – that God calls us, and that we respond. This life is where our eternal happiness or eternal punishment is decided. (Navarre commentary Matthew 24:40)

Children obey your parents, so that if Jesus comes back while you’re a child, he can catch you doing something good.

Young people, neglect neither your earthly life, nor your spiritual life, so that you are prepared for his coming any time, whether it is today, for us all, or for you alone, at the end of a long life.

My friends, hold me and one another accountable to being faithful to the Lord in our everyday lives, and for helping our children and grandchildren learn to do the same.

Elders, thank you for your witness, and for showing us how to fall and get up again. Please continue to teach us how to give thanks, and please pray for our eternal peace and for our earthly good.

We don’t know when the Lord will return in glory, or come at our own death to escort us to our eternal destination, but we do know that we are called to wait actively, preparing to greet him joyfully when he comes.