“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart: be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:3-4)
At any point in time, life always gives us some reasons to be happy and some reasons to be sad, some reasons to be very scared, and some reasons to be hopeful, nothing seems very certain. Our cup is never completely full, it is either half empty or half full.
If we consider all the evils going on around us; bad leadership, corruption, immorality, attacks on the Christian faith, and so on, we may end up sad, angry, depressed and afraid, weak, and powerless. John the Baptist, like the Israelites, probably felt this way in prison. Same with the Christians at the time of James the Apostles.
However, John the Baptist did something remarkable. He reached out to Jesus. He sent some of his disciples to ask if Jesus is truly the Messiah. And in response, Jesus basically said: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receives their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised…” (Matthew 11:4-5) This brings us to our first lesson today.
*1. Look at the bigger picture. See the bright side. Rejoice and be Glad*
The essence of our celebration today is to look beyond everything around us that troubles us. The Church is saying today, put on your dancing shoes and start counting your blessings. That is why this particular third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday.” Happiness is not simply what you get when all your problems are over, it is what you choose regardless of your problems.
There would never be a time that all your problems will be over. John the Baptist probably prayed to be set free from prison but this was not the plan of God. Jesus was saying to John: “Look at the brighter side instead. You have done your part; your ground-breaking work has started yielding fruits – the blind see again, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and even the dead are raised to life.”
The fact that you are not happy about a lot of things in your life does not mean God hasn’t done anything for you. The fact that not all your prayers have been answered does not mean that God is weak or that God no longer exists. Look around you, God is still doing great and mighty works for many. Maybe it’s not yet your turn, or maybe your problems are blessings in disguise, whatever the case, don’t lose hope in God.
*2. Do not take Offence at God*
After listing the testimonies, Jesus concluded: “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” What does it mean to take offense at God? It is to become angry with God or to lose hope in Him. Many Christians today no longer believe that God is able to change their situation; some have stopped going to church, and some have even set the Bible ablaze and publicly renounced their faith.
At the heart of the crisis he was facing, Job’s wife said to him: “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9). In other words, just end it. This is what the devil wanted but Job did not take offence at God. Job refused to curse God, instead, he burst into singing: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last, he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26).
*3. With God, all things are Possible.*
In today’s first reading, we hear the prophet Isaiah saying: “Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God… For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:4-6). What does this mean? That your situation can still change, that God knows how to write straight on very crooked lines.
The God who made a virgin become pregnant without knowing a man can turn your life around in a matter of minutes. The God who opened the womb of Elizabeth, (the one who was called barren and was now in old age) is still on the throne. God did it for Sarah. He did it for Elizabeth. He can do it for you.
Rejoice not just because of your blessings, but because of what God can do. Rejoice that you serve a God for whom nothing is too difficult. Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for preaching the word of God yet from prison (like John the Baptist), they started singing and praising God. “And suddenly there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s fetters were unfastened.” (Acts 16:23-26)
*4. Consider the Time of Pain as Planting Season*
Nothing lasts forever. This is the message of St. James in today’s second reading: “Be patient… Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord, is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged.” (James 5:7-9).
The book of Ecclesiastes would say: “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. (Ecclesiastes 3:2) Bear in mind that it is not the same day a seed is planted that it begins to bear fruit. Know this too that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).
There would be moments of pain we cannot escape, tears we must cry, losses we must make, and deaths we must die. These are planting seasons. They must come and they must go. If the farmer eats all his seed and fails to “sacrifice” some for planting, there would be nothing to eat in the next season. Thank God for your adversity. Whatever it is that you are going through right now is working for your good. (Cf. Romans 8:28)
These beautiful lines from St. Paul sum up today’s message: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-5).
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, may my hope in you never disappoint me. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 35:1-6,10, Ps. 146:6-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11)*
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu