Third Sunday of Advent – Year A

11 December 2022

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

[Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11 :2-11]

When I have occasion to meet with young people, such as in the course of a school visit, there is often opportunity for a question-and-answer session, a Q&A. There is certainly no shortage of questions when that happens, and the subject matter will vary according to age. The very young will like to know how old I am, if I have a pet, or my favourite colour, while older children have queries concerning more serious life matters. One memorable exception to that was a question from a little girl in Grade 2, who wanted to know if I had ever been to Vegas!

Regardless of age, we all have questions for which we seek answers. In that sense, life itself is one continuous Q&A session. I mention this because the Gospel passage today revolves around a question and an answer. What we have in the sacred text from St. Matthew, though, is not a query focusing upon something of only passing interest, of no real consequence. On the contrary, the question raised captures and expresses humanity’s deep yearning for hope. The answer given is that which, when accepted, fulfils our longing and changes our lives.

The question is posed by St. John the Baptist to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come…?” Recall that John is the prophet raised up by God to prepare the people for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, or Christ. At the time of John, there was an expectation that the Christ’s coming was imminent. John hears of the wondrous works that Jesus is doing, and this prompts him to ask if he is the long-awaited one, if in him hope has finally come to the people: “Are you the one who is to come…?”

Now, before we move to the answer, let’s pause for a moment and consider John’s situation. This is important, because we shall find that it mirrors what we often go through ourselves, and helps us realize that the question John asks often cries out from our own hearts, too.

John had particular expectations about how the awaited Christ would act when he finally came to the people. He had predicted the advent of a stern judge, one who would exercise a fiery and terrifying judgment. What he has been hearing about Jesus, though, is the opposite: a man who heals the sick and preaches good news to the poor. Furthermore, John’s own life has taken a dark and dangerous turn. He is in prison; he has to send messengers to pose his question to Jesus. We cannot know his mind, of course, but it is reasonable to wonder if John is needing re-assurance. We can sense even some doubting arise within him as he goes on to ask, “… or are we to wait for another?” He needs to know if the one to be sent from God to liberate the people is, in fact, Jesus. Hence the direct question: “Are you the one …?”

It is not difficult to see our own lives reflected in this situation of John the Baptist. Although we now know with certainty that Jesus is the Christ, nevertheless we can develop our own expectations of how he should be acting in our lives. When he does not, questions and doubts might arise in our hearts. Also, our lives, like John’s, can take turns that are not of our own making, leaving us in places that we would not have chosen: a loved one develops a serious illness that leaves life turned entirely upside down; a marriage unexpectedly ruptures and hearts are shattered; a promising career is cut short by layoffs and the future is rendered uncertain. In these and other similar circumstances we can find ourselves saying; “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” or, “I didn’t see this coming,” and we, like John, can feel imprisoned, held captive by fear and doubt. We, too, very often need re-assurance, and ask of Jesus “Are you the one who is to come,” which is to say, “Are you really with us? We need to know.”

So, let’s now consider the answer, the reply Jesus gives to John’s question. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.” Echoing in the background of this response is the prophecy of Isaiah proclaimed in the first reading. These wondrous deeds are the very signs that will accompany the Christ and point him out as the One promised by God. What this means is that the answer Jesus gives to John is this: “Yes, I am he. I am the One you have long-awaited. I am now here and am with you. I may not be acting as you expected me to do, but don’t be scandalized by that or take offence. I know what I am about, I know what needs to be done, and I have come to do it. You do not need to look for anyone else.”

Today, the Gospel announces that same answer to us, especially in those moments and circumstances when we do need re-assurance. It is as if Jesus were saying to us: “Do not doubt that I am with you. I am always with you and will never abandon you. I who healed the blind and deaf, I who raised people from the dead, I who myself rose from the grave, am with you at your side. In your life, too, I know what needs to be done, and will do it. It may not be what you are hoping for, or what you expect, but let that not trouble you or cause you to give up. I am here. Place your trust in me.”

The supreme re-assurance of the Lord’s presence is, of course, the mass. Here in the Eucharist the Lord is truly present, the long-awaited One who first came in a manner beyond all expectation, in a way no one could have anticipated – the Son of God incarnate of the Virgin Mary – and who now is with his people in a manner no less wondrous – in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Let all fear and doubt be banished. Jesus is here, the One promised by God. We do not need to look for anyone else. His presence and love are all the assurance we need.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

St. Joseph’s Basilica

December 11th, 2022