3rd Sunday of Advent (December 11, 2016)

3rd Sunday of Advent (December 11, 2016)

Man, it got cold fast, didn’t it?  And it’s supposed to get even colder this coming week.  Yikes!  It already feels like the dead of winter.  I’ve always thought that was an interesting expression, “the dead of winter.”  Of course, for those of us living in this part of the world it really needs no explanation, right?

Something else that is dead and arid is a desert (or a tundra, I guess).  It’s a place where it’s very difficult for life to thrive.  There’s even that desert out in California called “Death Valley.”  Yet the prophet Isaiah proclaims that the desert and parched land will come alive, “will bloom with abundant flowers.”  This really does occur when some rain happens to fall in the desert.  But in the end, this newness of life that Isaiah is talking about isn’t for the land but for its people.  The People of Israel, as a whole, had essentially dried up in their lived relationship with God, dried up in their life of faith and faithfulness to the Lord.  And yet they hear, “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”  And what will be the result?  “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

By the time of Jesus, even though the People of Israel had long returned from exile, they were still waiting for God’s ultimate saving work: the coming of the Messiah.  John the Baptist was out in the desert helping to usher in a new age.  Jesus tells the crowd that while they might have been going out to the desert to see a prophet, John was actually more than another prophet.  He says, “This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare the way before you.”  Really, in saying this Jesus is trying to tell them less about John than He is about Himself.  He is the “I.”  We hear that even John the Baptist wasn’t too sure about this, but Jesus tells John’s followers to take notice of what the presence of God is making happen.  Like in Isaiah 35, “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.”

Brothers and sisters, don’t we find our own relationship with the living God kind of dried up sometimes?  There are times when we are spiritually blind, deaf, lame, mute, and poor.  Sometimes this is the result of our own wandering; other times we just find ourselves stuck in a ‘desert’ place.  In either case, the Good News that the Advent season brings to the fore is that the Lord is always on His way toward us with His saving, redeeming, life-giving grace that brings us the wholeness for which we were made/for which we long, even in times of trial.  The Sacraments are those special channels/funnels of God’s grace that He uses to give and restore His very life within us, which is why we need them and shouldn’t keep ourselves away from them. 

Certainly one challenge in this is that the workings of God are not always apparent; the effects of righteousness (of a right relationship with God) are not always apparent.  Sometimes—perhaps often—things are happening below the surface or in ways that we can’t see.  So St. James gives us the image of the farmer.  We need to be patient and trusting as the fruit of God’s grace grows.  Yet we also have our part to play (like the farmer)—to prepare a heart, mind, and soul that is ready to receive and open to growth.

As we prepare more and more to celebrate the birth of our Savior, let us embrace that He indeed comes to save us.  While it may be the dead of winter outside, we can rejoice that the Lord looks upon us with love and comes to make us evermore alive.