Third Sunday of Advent Cycle A
IS 35:1-6a, 10; Ps 16:6-10; Mt 11:2-11
One theme running through today’s readings is one of encouragement. In the first reading from Isaiah, the prophet is encouraging the people to be strong and fear not. God is coming to restore and save you, he says. God will strengthen the feeble and weak, restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, movement to the lame, and speech to the dumb. Sorrow will turn to joy. What seemed to be a barren desert will bloom with abundant flowers. In short, the prophet encourages the people to believe that God can transform their lives.
In the second reading from the letter of James, we are encouraged to be patient “because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” It is the message of Advent – wait, be prepared, don’t lose heart – the Lord is coming. James uses the analogy of the farmer, who must wait patiently for the ground to yield its fruit. So we must trust that God is bringing abundance into our lives even when we cannot see it yet. Now and then, in the midst of winter, we need encouragement to remember that spring will surely follow.
In today’s Gospel reading, it is John the Baptist who is need of encouragement. From prison, he sends someone to ask Jesus, “Are you the one?” We hear in John’s question both hope and hesitancy – much like our own faith at times. Jesus encourages John to believe, to trust all he knows and hears about HIM, to understand that HE is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of lives being transformed by the power of God.
We are at the mid-point of the Advent season when we have been anxiously awaiting the coming of our Savior, not only as an anniversary of His birth but also when he comes again. I hope we have spent the past two weeks in preparation for His coming, because there isn’t much time left until we celebrate the great feast of the birth of our Savior. And for some there is a relatively short period of time before they will come face to face with our Savior.
This Sunday we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. There was a time in the world when the color of something would tell you what was going on. For instance, the color of the other Advent candles are violet, that was the color for royalty, and most people refer to it as ‘royal purple.’ Red referred to ‘victory’, so when armies of old were victorious in battle, they would return home triumphantly wearing red.
The color pink was a ‘joyous’ color. Even today we dress little girls in pink because they bring such joy into our lives. We use the joyous color of pink today on our Advent wreath to show our joy that this season of waiting for our Lord is half over, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, when we will celebrate the great feast of the birth of our Savior.
Since pink is the color of joy, I am going to share with you a way to bring joy into your life. All you have to do is to remember how to spell the word JOY, what each letter stands for, and the order of the letters. “J” stands for ‘Jesus”, and just as “J” is the first letter of JOY, so Jesus should always be “first” in our lives. “O” stands for ‘others’, and just as “O” is the second letter of JOY, we should always think of others ‘second’ in our lives. The “Y” stands for ‘you’, and just as “Y” is the last letter of “JOY”, we should always think of ourselves ‘last”. Therefore, to bring JOY into your life, always think of Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.
John the Baptist was a good example of this. Last week we heard how John the Baptist was trying to teach others how they should repent for their sins as he was baptizing many at the Jordan River. Although he was being harassed by the Pharisees and Sadducees, he didn’t think of himself first, but put the spiritual wellbeing of others before his own comfort. He was also preaching to them to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Notice how he wasn’t preaching about himself, but how important “the one who is coming after me” would be – he wasn’t even worthy to carry his sandals. John always put Jesus first.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has the chance to tell us just how important John the Baptist is and how important we are to HIM. He mentions that there is “none greater than John the Baptist.” Yet he also tells us that the ‘least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.’ Jesus is telling us just how lucky we are that Jesus came to save us so that we get to share in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus mentions that John doesn’t wear ‘fine clothing’ or live in ‘royal palaces’, yet he is considered by Jesus to be more than a prophet.
You see God doesn’t measure the worth of someone to enter the kingdom of heaven by how well he or she is dressed or how fancy the house is where they live. God is only concerned with HOW we live our life as we patiently await the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist is an excellent example of someone who lived a rather simple life here on earth, always striving to look out for the needs of others before himself. Yet note how highly Jesus praises him.
We should be encouraged by God’s word to us found in today’s scriptures. They remind us that our lives can be transformed if we are patient and place our trust in God. The message of Advent is that God is here, present among us – not only 2,000 plus years ago in the person of Jesus Christ but here in our everyday lives. We must prepare our hearts to recognize and welcome HIM.
Let us spend the remainder of the this Advent season preparing ‘our way’ before the Lord comes this Christmas. Remembering always to keep Jesu first in our lives, others second, and ourselves last. Then perhaps we too can be like John the Baptist – we can be a messenger sent by God to prepare others for the coming of the Lord.
Deacon Hal Belcher