Dec 10, 2016
Third Sunday of Advent
In today’s fast moving, multi-media world, where inconceivable masses of information travel at incredible speed past us, around us, and even through us, what if you could reach your hand into a stream of information and grab some of it. And if you opened your hand to inspect its contents would it make sense? It might be like reaching into the fireball of the big bang at the beginning of the universe (or like being captured in the fifth dimensional library imagined in the movie Interstellar) - you glimpse something from the time's beginning, the present and the end all at once. It can be amazing, complexing, confusing and mysterious - but you don’t know what to do with it!
Enter John the Baptist. Inspired by and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, he spent his whole life, in a way, writing a code for a program that would be the ultimate platform to usher in the salvation of all creation. In his mind, it all made sense. He was a spiritual prodigy! (I am thinking, for example, of my nephew, a computer genius who did his university internship with microsoft and now writes in software programing language as easily as Mozart composes symphonies.) But in the Gospel we have heard this Sunday, John the Baptist, who has been arrested and behinds bars, seems confused, even a little unhinged. His cousin Jesus has now appeared on the scene and miracles are exploding here, there and everywhere - the code of creation itself, that had been corrupted by the virus of sin and evil is now being rewritten - “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.”
All of a sudden the divine program for salvation is up and running without John having downloaded all the protocols and pressed the return key. Has it been hacked? Surely God would follow the predictable sequence of 1. divine judgement for the world followed by 2. justice handed down and then 3. mercy for those who deserved it? But what John sees and hears is not logical! But of course it’s not! Who can understand the logic of God? Christ was reminding his cousin John, in not too subtle ways, of what was pronounced by the Prophet Isaiah (whose spirit John was to emulate) “Who dares to think they can direct the Spirit of the Lord, or offer Him advice that He should take?” (Isaiah 40:13)
In a way, John the Baptist has been put in his place. And what is his place? It is the place where we all are. Having glimpsed, even in our dreams and imagination, the big and beautiful picture of the universe and ourselves embracing the wonder of our creation as made in the image and likeness of God, we, like John the Baptist, often find ourselves restrained behind bars - sometimes forced, beyond our control, to live our lives with the burden of a heavy chain, often not of our own making, that we cannot with our own strength remove. We can only dream of freedom.
This is why the words of encouragement from St. James in the Second Reading are so necessary to hear, reminding us, regardless of the weight of our sins or suffering, “You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain… [Christ who is merciful and just] is standing before the gates.”
So what is our prayer and petition this Sunday at Mass? Maybe we find it best articulated in the words we need to say every Sunday that follow the “Our Father” just before Holy Communion. We ask that we might be delivered from every past, present and future evil, that we might be granted peace and finally spared from all anxiety, never despairing or losing hope, so that, even from behind bars, we can “await in blessed hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ”.
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