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DECEMBER 15, 2013: THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Readings: 

Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

One of the problems we face during Advent is that many of the liturgical readings we employ give the impression that something is still to come which is already here, or at least should be here.

When, for instance, we today hear Isaiah comforting his people with the assurance that Yahweh is coming "with vindication, with divine recompense ... to save you," we can easily forget that Jesus, as Yahweh, has already come to save us. What the prophet hoped for, we supposedly have.

If that's the case, then how come the eyes of all the blind aren't opened, or the ears of the deaf cleared? Why aren't the lame leaping like stags, or the tongues of the mute singing? Obviously many of our doctors are overworked with appointments and our hospitals overflowing with patients. Shouldn't Jesus, as God, have already taken care of these blind, deaf, lame, mute and sick people? After all, he arrived over 2,000 years ago.

It appears from today's gospel pericope that John the Baptizer had the same problem. "When in prison he heard of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with the question, 'Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?'"

Jesus answers by clicking off some of his accomplishments. "The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf here, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them." In other words, "I'm fulfilling the messianic hopes of prophets like Isaiah. Haven't you noticed?"

Though we're not denying the historical Jesus was able to pull off such noticeable feats, the risen Jesus doesn't seem to be working the same miracles today. Maybe that's why Matthew's Jesus adds the haunting sentence, "Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me." We presume a lot of people in the evangelist's community were taking offense. Jesus simply wasn't meeting all their needs.

That might be where the last line of today's gospel passage comes in. After answering John's question, Jesus assures the crowd, "... Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

As Matthew's Jesus pointed out at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, we're the "salt of the earth" and the "city built on the mountain top." We're important folk. We're the people to whom he's entrusted his ministry; we're "other Christs." If stupendous things aren't happening today, it's our fault, not his. We're not giving ourselves completely over to the message he taught and lived.

As the author of the letter of James reminds his community, we spend our time "complaining about one another" instead of meeting one another's needs. We refuse to follow Isaiah's command to "strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak," and take care of those "whose hearts are frightened." We expect God to do what God has commissioned us to do.

Years ago, some of my high school students, reacting to my lament that practically no one puts Jesus at the center of his or her Christmas preparations, gifted me with a home-made chapel banner sporting a picture of Santa Claus accompanied by one of the lines I mentioned above from today's gospel: "Are you the one who is to come or shall we wait for another?"

If we really believe Jesus, not Santa, has come, and is at the heart of this season, then we should be zeroing in giving others ourselves instead of things. Only that sort of gift will create the world Jesus and our sacred authors envisioned.