3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11
Our world is longing for a Savior. We long for the coming of the Kingdom with weak hands and wobbly knees. As we read today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah, it might be good if we could see ourselves as the ones who need the help of a divine physician. If there was one take-away from the year of mercy, it is was that God is not ashamed of our feeble and fainthearted efforts. Throughout the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis kept reminding us that God never tires of lifting us up by His saving grace. It is this boundless mercy that manifests the power of God working through our weakness. We have reason to rejoice.
It seems safe to say that for many of us, the walk in faith has not been marked with joy and singing. More often than not, we can identify with John the Baptist: “Are you really the One?” Sitting in his prison cell, John must have been wracked with the question: “Is this all there is?” While he did not doubt the fidelity of God, you might say, his faith needed a boost. The mercy of God reached out to him and the light of grace shined on his darkness, giving him reason to rejoice. Under the loving gaze of God, the wilderness of his captivity began to blossom abundantly. In the life and ministry of Christ, his feeble and faint heart was encouraged.
I hope you found reassurance in John the Baptist’s question. Think of it this way, if the forerunner of Christ struggled with doubt, we are in good company. There is nothing to be ashamed of when we see our faith getting shaky. Like John the Baptist, we need to utter the questions that trouble our hearts, not avoid them. This theme was taken up by Pope Francis during a recent audience with young people: “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.”
During these days before Christmas, it might be good to admit our doubts and try to sit with the ambiguity of faith. As we decorate the tree, it might be good to ponder the Shoot that sprouted from the root of Jesse. As we bake the holiday treats, it might be good to ponder the Bread that came down from Heaven. As we do our gift shopping, it might be good to ponder the Gift that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. In the midst of darkness and gloom, it is good to ponder the star that led men of old to the Light of the World. The beauty of Christmas, with all its hustle and bustle, is that it takes faith out of the realms of theory and moves us to perform acts of loving-kindness for others. Using our weak hands and wobbly knees we come into the presence of God and find Him in the faces of those we encounter.
As we deal with our weak hands and wobbly knees of faith, we need to look around and see the signs that the Kingdom is erupting in our midst. Jesus’ words to the disciples of John underscore this. If you look around, you will see the signs of God’s loving-kindness: ´The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mat. 11:5). Though our hands be weak and our knees wobbly, we can lean on Christ. He will accompany us. The journey may not be elegant, but the destination is sure – our heavenly homeland. All that God requires from us is that we depend on Him and place our weak hands and wobbly knees at His service. Into a world enveloped in darkness and uncertainty, a light shall shine, the Light of Christ, the Light of the World.
In that light we shall look at each other’s face and see the Face of Christ. In that light, we can lift up our hands and make a joyful noise. In that Light we shall stand up on our wobbly knees and dance. In that Light we can show forth the goodness of our God by showing love and compassion for one another. Let us standup on our wobbly knees and raise our weak hands and prepare the way for our God. We need only ask the Lord to use us, as we are, to open the door for His coming. I hope you find this prayer of Thomas Merton an appropriate ending to these reflections.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”