Sunday Sermon for December 11, 2022, the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Readings: Is 35:1-6a, 10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11
Two weeks ago, we likened Advent to being on the top of a mountain from which one can look in every direction. It allows us to see clearly where we have come from and gives us an overview of where we are going. Today we bring things from our mountaintop perspective to looking very practically at where we are on the path as we move forward.
As we progress along this path it may seem very long, even difficult at times. We are reminded today of why we are on this journey and bolstered by the hope we have of reaching our destination. In the second reading, St. James reminds us to be patient, the way a farmer is patient as he waits for the crops to be ready for harvesting.
This analogy to the farmer waiting for the harvest helps us to realize that while we have our part to do in this process, we must wait for the Lord to do the rest. Just as the farmer has to till the land, plant the seeds, remove the weeds, etc., he has to trust in the Lord to provide for the rain, the growth of the plants, and ultimately, the maturation of the plants; so, we must pray, work, and persevere, but God must do the rest.
Even with this said, we now need to look even deeper because of the question our Lord poses to the people who had gone out to the desert to listen to the preaching of St. John the Baptist. Our Lord asks the people what they went into the desert to see. Once again, we can see the effort the people made. Remember, from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is about twenty miles and a 7200 foot difference in altitude. Most of the people would have walked this rather arduous and even dangerous journey (this is the same road our Lord references in the story of the Good Samaritan).
So, the people made the decision to go to see the Baptist, they had to pack provisions and carry them, they made a difficult journey, but for what purpose? Jesus poses several possibilities: to see someone in fine clothing or a prophet. Not only does our Lord tell the people St. John is more than a prophet, but in doing so, He challenges them to consider what they heard from the Baptist’s preaching.
If the people went out to the desert because of curiosity, what good will that do for them? Yes, they saw what they went to see, but with his camel skin garment and grasshopper diet, maybe St. John was more of a novelty. Maybe they went out to be entertained. Maybe they wanted to see and hear a man of God, but they did not really want his words to penetrate their hearts and be converted. Who knows what their motive was.
In telling the people St. John is the messenger sent to prepare the way of the Messiah, our Lord now calls on the people to look into their hearts once again, because this now goes beyond the Forerunner’s message and comes to the point of faith in Jesus the Christ. This was not just for the people 2000 years ago, it is equally pertinent for us today.
We have all heard the words of St. John the Baptist over and over throughout the years. Do we really pay attention? Do we come to Mass simply because we have to or because we really want to? Do we really want Jesus in our hearts or do we keep Him at an arm’s distance? St. John is calling us to prepare a way for the Lord. This means we cannot just hear the Baptist’s words; we must act on them.
This is what our faith is all about. Perhaps we have fallen into a mediocrity in our practice of the Faith, in our prayer, and in our relationship with the Lord. Perhaps we have allowed the worldliness that surrounds us to overwhelm us. God speaks to us through the Prophet Isaiah and tells us to strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, and say to those whose hearts are frightened hearts to be strong and not fear because our Lord comes to save us.
This is the situation where we find ourselves today. Many are scared, many are confused, many need to be strengthened. St. John the Baptist continues to call us, to prepare us for the Day of the Lord. Our preparation is not for the birth of the Messiah, but for the coming of the Messiah in a powerful and glorious way. He needs to be in our hearts before He comes to the world. Prepare the way for the Lord in your heart!
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 www.thewandererpress.com.