Sunday Sermon for December 11, 2016, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Is 35:1-6a, 10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

In the Gospel reading today Jesus asks the crowds who made the journey to hear St. John the Baptist what they went out into the desert to see. He gives them a few options: a reed swayed by the wind, someone dressed in fine clothing, a prophet. Our Lord answers each of these possibilities and then tells the crowds that John the Baptist was even more than a Prophet.

Today each of us has to be challenged similarly, but not with regard to John the Baptist. We have to ask the question about Jesus. Who do you believe Him to be? There are many who want to think of Him as a righteous man, others who think of Him as a teacher, still others who will call Him a Prophet, and then those who will acknowledge Him as the Messiah, but do not believe in His divinity.

There is a piece of truth in each of these ideas, but none of them captures the fullness of truth about our Lord. As Jesus told the people that the Baptist was indeed a Prophet, but more than a Prophet, so we would have to say about our Lord in each of these concepts: He is that, but more. He is God! If all we wanted was to hear what a teacher of righteousness says or what a Prophet says, these things are easy to slough off because we do not want to make the changes necessary to follow what they say. After all, they are just human persons and while what they say is good, it is not absolute.

It is entirely different when we speak of Jesus. He is not a human person, He is a divine Person. Therefore, what He teaches is not just good stuff, opinion, or conjecture, it is the Word of God; it is absolute. Because of this, we cannot ignore what He says nor can we rationalize why we do not have to accept it and live accordingly.

We see figuratively in the first reading what will happen when we actually allow the Word of God into our hearts. Isaiah tells us of the many changes that will take place when this occurs: the desert and the parched land will exult, the steppe will rejoice and bloom, the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared, the lame will leap like a stag, and the tongue of the dumb will sing.

While we do not like to think of ourselves this way, we have to admit that if we are not allowing the Lord’s words into the depths of our hearts, we are the desert, the steppe, the blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb. If we are not living according to the will of God, we cannot bear much fruit for Him, we have closed our eyes and ears to His truth, we are paralyzed spiritually and we do not speak of the glories of the Lord.

If we would just open our hearts then we would begin to see these beautiful changes taking place within our own lives. It is scary for us to think of making changes in our lives, but I think we would all have to admit that it is necessary. This necessity is severalfold. First, and most important, is the salvation of our souls. We will have to stand before the Lord as our Judge. Imagine having to answer to why we heard His words but did not believe them or did not allow them to penetrate deeply within our hearts.

Second, we can look at what St. James instructs us to do in the second reading and see that some changes are in order if we want to live a more Christian life: are to be patient and not to complain about one another. The patience about which he speaks is specifically in regard to the coming of our Lord, but I think most of us can extend that to consider our impatience in so many other areas of our lives. Even the idea of being patient while waiting for the Lord implies keeping up our prayer and virtuous acts until the end of our lives. And not complain about one another?! Yes, this is the truly Christian way.

Third, given our circumstances today, it is not unreasonable to suggest that we all have to be prepared for martyrdom. The old saying is that before you can die the death of a martyr, you have to live the life of a martyr. Once again, this means living according to the ways of the Lord and dealing patiently with the trials and persecutions that will inevitably follow.

So, who do you believe Jesus to be? He is God, let Him in!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit