The first and third readings for the Third Sunday of Advent celebrate the great transformation God is bringing about, not only in nature but also and primarily in the heart of man. The second reading cautions us to develop the virtue of patience.
Isaiah begins by describing the physical changes that will come to the desert and to the steppe, a semi-arid land. These dry and parched lands will bloom with flowers. They will rival the beauty of the forests of Lebanon or the richness of the vegetation on Mount Carmel.
It isn’t clear if he restricts this vibrant growth of vegetation to the natural landscape or if it’s a metaphor for the coming transformation of man.
He then specifically applies this renewal to man. “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication…”
Our God comes to save us. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
When our God comes, He brings with him the power to transform our hearts. Isaiah writes this to give the people of Israel hope. They look forward to a time when God will renew the hearts of all mankind. They are to look toward God with expectant hearts. After all God is glorified when we seek His help, because it gives God a chance to reveal His goodness to our hearts.
In the second reading, James encourages his followers to have patience in waiting for the coming of the Lord. He uses the patient farmer who plants his seeds but then must wait for the rain and sun to help them grow. We are patient when we accept life as it unfolds. We need to practice virtues if we are to get along with others. When we live a life of virtue, we are filled with peace. That is the peace of the saints. That is what the prophets have taught us.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist, from prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus is very direct and emphatic: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Imagine how this good news nurtures the heart of John the Baptist. Even though he can no longer minister from prison, he must be ecstatic at what he hears that Jesus is now doing. Remember what he once said of Jesus: “He must increase; I must decrease.”
Once John’s disciples are gone, Jesus tells the crowd: “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? …Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.”
John the Baptist models for us the patience about which James speaks in the second reading. It’s easy to be patient when we are healthy and life smiles upon us. It’s easy to be patient when we prosper financially or emotionally. It was easy for Job to be patient when everything fell his way. However, Job developed real patience when everything, including good health was taken away. His response was: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The renewal God promised mankind is taking place in your heart, in my heart, and in the hearts of those with whom we associate. Our hearts are renewed when we choose the way of Jesus in facing difficult circumstances. For example, when health issues or relationship issues get to us, we don’t have to resort to our unredeemed compulsions.
In such times, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus is with us. He wants to help us bear witness to His teachings. We glorify God when we take a beating for Jesus by bearing wrongs patiently. We console the heart of Jesus when we forgive others who have offended us or who keep offending us. Jesus is consoled because we are joining Him in saving souls.
We might even see the challenges that come our way as blessings from God to awaken us to the need to seek Jesus! The people who challenge or injure us are the very people to whom we are invited to witness the goodness of Jesus. In their woundedness they need to experience the goodness of Jesus toward them.
In other words, if we really look around, we will see that the kingdom of God is coming in our midst every time He renews our heart to reach out to others. When we make these sacrifices of patience and generosity out of love, we know that the kingdom of God is within.
Why not begin each day by simply saying: “Jesus, I look forward to the good things you will be doing for others through me this day. However, remind me of my words when these things come, because I will need all the help I can get!”