The 3rd Sunday of Advent – 11 December 2022.
Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6. 10; Psalm 145:6b-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Theme: Rejoice, the Lord will come!
Today is Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday and there is much to rejoice at in our readings, which are full of hope – hope for those not only in the time of Isaiah, our psalmist, James or Matthew, but also for us today. In the midst of the turmoil of injustice within and invasion by the Assyrians without, Isaiah proclaims, “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God …God comes to save you.” James commends faithful waiting for the coming of the Lord to his early Christian community and John the Baptist, in prison and awaiting death, wonders if his life has been worthwhile and asks of Jesus, ”Are you the one who is to come …?” Jesus’ answer to him is a challenge both to John and still to us, for he chooses to describe himself and his task in the words of the most profound hopes of Isaiah: “The blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the one who does not lose faith in me”.
Our Isaiah reading is from a chapter which is full of anticipation of a coming time when all creation will be restored to wellbeing, with healing and homecoming for those who have stayed faithful to God. Radical transformation of the natural world is spoken of in terms of “before”: wilderness-dry land-desert and “after”: Lebanon-Carmel-Sharon, places of lush vegetation and flowers, so much so that the land itself will break out into song. The same will be true for humanity, where those with “weak hands” and “feeble knees”, those immobilized not only physically but emotionally, caught in despair, are both given words of comfort and encouraged with strong imperatives: “strengthen … make firm … say”. The turning point is focussed in the words, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold your God!” Then all disabilities will be overcome: “The blind will see! The deaf will hear! The lame will leap! The dumb will sing!” Such transformation is alive with God’s compassion for God’s people. And this is to be the essence of how Jesus understands and lives out his ministry.
Our psalm today, Psalm 145, is a psalm of praise, celebrating God’s compassion for those neglected or downtrodden by society – of whom we have so very many in our own world of 2022 – those who are “oppressed … hungry … in prison … blind … bowed down”, offering protection for “the stranger … the widow … the orphan”.
The Letter of James resembles the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. The passage we read today speaks of patient waiting for “the Lord’s coming”, with James urging his fellow Christians to hold fast and to remember “that the Lord is kind and compassionate”, words used by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. This passage from Exodus (34:6), speaking of God’s tenderness, compassion and forgiveness, is repeated constantly throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and has remained central to Judaism’s concept of God.
We, too, are called to rejoice today in this God of compassion and love, to strengthen our faith in the Eternal One, remaining hopeful and working for the time when, in the words of Isaiah, “those the LORD has ransomed shall return./They will come to Zion shouting for joy,/everlasting joy on their faces;/joy and gladness will go with them/and sorrow and lament be ended.
”For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Think about your experiences of waiting. Are you able to rejoice during that time? Having meditated on the above readings can you wait with joy for the coming of Jesus? Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Margaret Shepherd NDS, England, Bat Kol Contributor.