3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 35:1–6a, 10; James 5:7–10; Matthew 11:2–11
Unfinished play John is the messenger, Jesus is the Messiah.We are to complete their work. Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American writer. When he died in 1864, he had on his desk the outline of a play he never got a chance to finish. The play centered around a person who never appeared on stage. Everyone talked about him. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came.
All kinds of minor characters described him. They told everybody what he would be like. They told everybody what he would do. But the main character never appeared.
The Old Testament is something like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s play. It, too, ended without the main character putting in an appearance.
Everyone talked about the Messiah. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came.
All kinds of prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, told the people what he would be like. They told the people what he would do. But the Messiah never appeared. It is against this background that we must read today’s Scripture readings. It is against this background that we should view the appearance of John the Baptist in Israel. Let’s take a closer look at that appearance. Not far from the Dead Sea there’s a shallow spot in the Jordan River.
As long as anyone could remember, it had been a favorite crossing for caravans, traders, and travelers from all over the world. It was a popular place for people to meet and exchange world news.
It was to this place that John the Baptist came one day to preach and baptize the people. He was dressed in an animal skin, like the prophets of old.
People began to wonder: Who is this man? Is he the promised Messiah? Or is he the messenger who is to prepare the way for the Messiah?
Jesus answers these questions in today’s gospel reading. He says to the people, For John is the one of whom the scripture says:. . . “I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way for you.”
Jesus also answers another question put to him by the disciples of John the Baptizer. They asked, Are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?
Jesus answers that question by quoting the words of Isaiah, found in today’s first reading. Speaking of the Messiah, Isaiah says these signs will identify him: The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.
Jesus’ point is clear. He presents his own miracles giving sight to the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf, healing the lame, giving speech to the mute as signs that he is fulfilling the prophecies that will signal the arrival of the Messiah. What special message does today’s gospel hold for you and me? It is this: Jesus is the Messiah, foretold by the prophets. Jesus established the kingdom of God, also foretold by the prophets.
But Jesus left to us the job of completing God’s kingdom. He commissioned us to build up the kingdom of God on earth. And when Jesus returns at the end of history, he will judge us on how well we did our job. The ancient Romans had a god called Janus. We get our word January from him. He is depicted in art as having a head with two faces. One face looks backward; the other, forward.
The season of Advent is like that. It looks two ways. It looks backward to the first coming of Jesus into history. It also looks forward to Jesus’ second coming at the end of history.
You and I stand at the midpoint between these two great historical moments.
Our job is not to sit on a hilltop looking backward to the one and forward to the other.
Our job is to roll up our sleeves and complete the work Jesus gave us to do at his first coming. Concretely, what does this mean?
It means building up the kingdom of God in our world.
It means filling our world with love rather than hate.
It means filling our world with forgiveness rather than resentment.
It means filling our world with truth rather than falsehood.
It means filling our world with Christian compassion rather than cold indifference.
In short, it means building the kind of world Jesus himself would build if he were in our place.
This is the message of today’s readings.
It is the messge that Jesus is the promised Messiah. It is the message that Jesus will come again at the end of time. It is the message that Jesus will judge us when he comes on how well we built up his kingdom on earth.
Let us close with an act of faith in Jesus, the Messiah and our savior:
Jesus,we believe that you entered our world of hate so that we might build a world of love.
Jesus, we believe that you reached out to us so that we might reach out to others.
Jesus, we believe that you understand us,even when we don’t understand ourselves.
Jesus, we believe that you are always with us, even though we are not always with you.
Jesus, we believe that God is our Father, because you have treated us like brothers and sisters.
Series II 3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 35:1–6a, 10; James 5:7–10; Matthew 11:2–11
Greater than John We are greater than John, and much is expected of us.
Years ago the Reader’s Digest asked H. G.Wells, the well-known historian, to select the three greatest men of history.
The first thing Wells did was to decide upon a test for determining what made a person great.
After pondering the matter, he came up with a test, put in the form of a question:
What did the person do to start people thinking in new directions in a way that eventually changed the course of history?
Using this test, Wells considered a number of candidates. Finally he narrowed the field down to three.
He gave third place to Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher. He gave second place to Buddha, the great Eastern mystic. He gave first place to Jesus of Nazareth.
In giving first place to Jesus, Wells said he considered Jesus solely as a man. He said he was aware that many people considered Jesus to be more than a man. But a historian must disregard this fact. He must judge Jesus as a man, “just as a painter must paint him as a man.”
And lest people think he was biased in choosing Jesus,Wells pointed out that he himself was not a Christian.
After reading Wells’s article, someone said, “I wonder who Jesus would have selected, had he been in Wells’s place?”
Strangely enough, Jesus did make such a selection in his lifetime.
And who did Jesus select as history’s greatest man?
We find the answer in today’s gospel. He selected John the Baptist, saying, “I assure you that John the Baptist is greater than anyone who has ever lived.”
If Jesus were to remake his selection today, I’m sure he would pick John the Baptist again.
A closer study of today’s gospel reading suggests two reasons why Jesus chose John.
The first reason is his personal holiness. John’s whole life was one of selflessness and self-sacrifice. The second reason is the role John played in the history of our salvation. John was more than just an outstanding prophet. He was God’s own personal messenger, sent to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus.
After declaring John to be the greatest man who ever lived, Jesus surprises us. In fact, he shocks us, saying, “But the one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John.”
Let’s be perfectly clear on what Jesus is saying.
He’s saying the greatest sinner among us, in this church today, is greater than John. He’s saying the least important member of God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest man in history.
He’s saying that by our acceptance of him, which makes us members of God’s kingdom, we take on a value that ranks us above the most important person who ever lived.
The reason for this is clear.
By our acceptance of Jesus, we are united with him. By our acceptance of Jesus, we become one with him. By our acceptance of Jesus, we become members of his mystical body, the Church, the kingdom of God on earth.
As a result, we are joined so intimately with Jesus that we can truly address God as “our Father.”
An analogy might help clarify how the least member of God’s kingdom is greater than John the Baptist. Consider this example.
The weakest voice in the world, when united to a microphone, is louder than the loudest voice in the world.
So, too, the slowest person in the world, when united to an automobile, is faster than the fastest person in the world.
In a similar way, the least important person in the world, when united to Jesus, becomes greater than the greatest person in the world.
And so today’s readings pay tribute to John, but they also pay tribute to us.
They say that John is the greatest man in history. But they also say that the least member of God’s kingdom is greater than John.
In making us one with his Son, Jesus, God has bestowed on us the greatest of gifts. And because God has given us such a great gift, he expects much from us, just as he expected much from John. Jesus himself said in his lifetime:
“Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given.” Luke 12:48
One of the purposes of Advent is to ask ourselves three hard questions about how we are using God’s gifts. How well are we using God’s gifts to grow in holiness and to advance the work of God’s kingdom on earth?
How might we better use God’s gifts to grow in holiness and to advance the work of God’s kingdom on earth?
How will we begin to use God’s gifts, starting today, to grow in holiness and to advance the work of his kingdom on earth?
In brief, then, we should ask ourselves: How are we using God’s gifts? How might we better use them? How will we begin to use them, starting right now?
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, John the Baptist was your messenger who prepared this world for your first coming.
Help us carry out our mission of preparing our world for your Second Coming.
Help us evaluate how we are using your gifts to grow in holiness and to advance the work of your kingdom.
Help us take to heart Jesus’ words that “much will be required of the person entrusted with much. M. L.
Series III 3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 35:1–6a, 10; James 5:7–10; Matthew 11:2–11
Witness Letting Jesus shine through our lives. John is the one of whom God said, “I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way for you.” Matthew 11:10
The publication Civil War Times contains an account of a bloody battle that took place between the Confederate army and the Union army at Galveston, Texas.
It includes this story:
A wounded Confederate soldier lay propped up on the ground. As he lay there unable to walk, he saw women in long black dresses moving about on the battlefield.
Those women are going to get killed. Who are they, anyway?
The other soldier raised his head, looked in the direction he was pointing, and said:
They’re Catholic nuns, bandaging and helping wounded soldiers like us. They’re not afraid of anything.
The article goes on to say that when the war heated up, requests for nuns to help the wounded came in from both the Union and the Confederate governments. It cites two examples.
The first took place during the campaign on the Virginia Peninsula. The Confederate command sent out a desperate, but humorous, order, saying, “Capture more Sisters.”
A second request was issued by the Union army after it converted a hospital at Point Lookout,Maryland, into a prisoner-of-war camp.
It sent out a notice that all “women nurses” at the hospital should be evacuated at once.
The chief physician of the hospital protested to Union Headquarters, saying that the Sisters had to stay on. He needed them.
He was given a clarification, which said:
The Sisters are not included in the orders; but all the other ladies are to leave.
Finally, President Lincoln wrote in his Civil War Diary:
Of all forms of charity . . . in the crowded wards in the hospitals, those of some Catholic Sisters were the most efficient. . . . As they went from cot to cot . . . they were veritable angels of mercy.
The kind of witness that the Sisters gave had a remarkable impact on soldiers on both sides. A letter written by a Union soldier named Jack Crawford reads:
There are no more kindhearted and self-sacrificing women than Catholic Sisters. . . . I’m not a Catholic, but I stand ready . . . to defend these noble women with my life, for I owe that life to them. Retold from a condensed version by the Catholic Digest, July 1998, from Civil War Times
The praise given these nuns recalls Jesus’ praise for John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reading.
Today’s Gospel passage says that after John’s disciples went back to the prison to see John, Jesus turned to the people and said:
When you went out to John in the desert, what did you expect to see? A blade of grass bending in the wind?
What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in fancy clothes? People who dress like that live in palaces!
Tell me, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes indeed, but you saw much more than a prophet.
For John is the one of whom scripture says, “God said, I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way for you.” Matthew 11:7–10
The point is this: Just as the witness of John the Baptist inspired many people to turn away from sin and back to God, so the witness of nuns in the Civil War led many soldiers to turn away from sin and turn back to God. This brings us to ourselves in this Church right now.
We are called to play a role in our time, not unlike the role John the Baptist played in his time, and a role not unlike the role the nuns played in Civil War time.
We are called to witness to Jesus in such a way that it will dispose people to open their hearts to Jesus, just as the witness of John and the nuns did in their day. Edward Farrell tells a story that illustrates one way we do this.
He was on a plane. Seated next to him was a tiny woman in a strange blue and white garb. When he sat down, she was reading from a small book.
As you probably guessed, the tiny woman was Mother Teresa and the small book was a book of prayers from which she would read every day.
After they got acquainted, she gave the prayerbook to Farrell to read one prayer in particular. It was written by Cardinal Newman.
He liked it so much that he took the time to copy it down. Then he asked Mother Teresa to autograph it for him.
The prayer makes a fitting preparation for the Eucharist that we are about to share. It reads:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of you.
Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my spirit.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine. . . . None of it will be mine; it will be you shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise you in the way that you love best by shining on others around me.
Let me preach you without preaching by words, but by my example . . . the fullness of the love my heart bears for you.