Homily for 3rd Sunday of Advent, year A. What kind of Messiah?

We begin the third week of Advent and slowly we are getting close to the feast of Christmas. That’s why the 3rd Sunday of Advent is called the Sunday of Joy. We rejoice because the Lord’s coming is close at hand. So, let’s light the third candle of Advent as an expression of our joyful and patient waiting of the messiah.

I can rejoice in your arms, Lord!

Bible readings

  • Isaiah 35: 1–6, 10
  • James 5: 7–10
  • Matthew 11: 2–11

Are you the messiah?

The gospel opens in a question: “When John heard in prison what the messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  John is in prison because he denounced Herod’s action of taking for his wife his brother’s wife. It’s from there that John hears about Jesus and thus sends messengers to him. What does John’s question signify?

Doubt or deception?

Does John doubt or is he disappointed? The Gospel does not say it. Nevertheless, in a way, the question betrays some doubt.  “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Certainly, neither certitude nor confirmation is expressed in such. Could it be that Jesus does not measure up to the image of the awaited messiah? Well, let’s do some comparison.

Just last Sunday we had John calling people for repentance, warning them of the impending wrath of God against unrepentant sinners. He presented a messiah who would judge and separate the good from the bad, like you separate wheat from husks. Besides, John presented a messiah like someone with an axe in his hands ready to cut down an unproductive tree. Here we have an image of revolutionary messiah whose coming will set the world upside down. Do we see Jesus acting like that?

No doubt, Jesus is radical but not in the manner of the messiah announced by John. He is not shunning sinners, he is not judging and neither is he punishing anyone.  Instead, he is gathering and healing the broken humanity. It’s a gentle and merciful messiah. Moreover, the messiah was expected to establish justice and liberate victims of injustice. What do we see? Evildoers and unjust people continue to walk freely on streets while the righteous ones like, John Baptist, are still languishing in prison. Hence, contrary to the expectation we have here a messiah whom the French would easily describe as “un type très sympa” –nice guy. I imagine, in John’s place, I too would doubt.

Messiah, not as judge but actor for humanity

Jesus does not say yes I’m the one. He tells the messengers to go and tell John simply what they have heard and seen: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them….” Discreetly, Jesus is accomplishing messianic acts. He’s uplifting and healing humanity caught in all sorts of shackles.

The little John in me questions God

I have built up a certain image of God that dictates my expectation on how God should be acting. But when he acts in the manner outside the rail I have established for him I cry “offside!”

Wars and violence in the world, people bedridden by all sorts of illnesses, cries of mourning everywhere, unjust people enjoying life freely while some innocent ones are unjustly put in prison, perhaps I’m living painful relationship with my boss, colleagues, or with my spouse. In response, I have prayed, I have fasted, I have done the novena or I have done a pilgrimage. But nothing changes. I rebel.

Such apparent absence, indifference and silence of God become simply unbearable. Why isn’t God acting as he should be? In fact, if I look closely I will probably find out that most of my prayers are a kind of delegation from the little John in me, not only inquiring as John the Baptist did, but actually lecturing God how he should be handling the situations of my life and that of the world.

Perhaps, I want a big bang messiah

Isn’t that just a sign of my preference for a messiah who will transform the world in a manner of a big bang, acting miraculously? Whatever the case, it’s good to bear in mind that demolishing is far much easier than rebuilding?

That’s why the restoration announced in the 1st reading shouldn’t be seen as something to be accomplished in a snap. Actually it would be a long and tedious process. Indeed, Israel would be liberated from exile in Babylon but not like a gift presented on a silver platter. People ought to put themselves on the road back home through the rough and hot desert. Besides, they should apply themselves to rebuild their lives. That’s why, aware of the risk of discouragement that can paralyse people in moments of suffering, Isaiah exhorts the people:  “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.’” But why a slow transformation?

The world changes along with me

Messianic train is surely on course. The world is being transformed but along with my own transformation. The moment I pose a kind act of humanity; when I sustain and help the one grounded to pick himself up again in life –it’s the world that’s being transformed. In fact, in the midst of violence and injustice in the world, if we look closely, there are abundant acts of humanity even in hopeless situations like Syria. Yes, in the backyards of good hearted people and at kitchen tables –radical, messianic acts are being fulfilled through those gestures of kindness no matter how simple.

In situations where one act of humanity appears like a drop in the sea only faith and trust in God can keep us going. In him, we are confident that our little effort is not wasted. It transforms us, and the world along with us. With that we understand the exhortation of James: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient.

We bring before the Lord all those men and women, who through their simple and discreet acts of humanity, are witnessing the presence of Christ in the world. As we draw close to the coming of the messiah may the Lord infuse them, and all of us, with the grace of joy and patience.

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(Light a candle of joy in your friend’s life by sharing this word with them)

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