3rd Advent [A] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin

Isaiah 35:1-6,10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

“Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

As you live out your life as a Christian, trying to make the life of Jesus a reality in the way you live, many people are going to be observing you. At certain key moments, somebody is going to be looking to you for help, hoping that maybe you’ll be a part of their way out, and their salvation.

Very indirectly, very quietly, or perhaps quite directly, they might be asking: ARE YOU THE ONE WHO CAN HELP ME, ONE WHO CAN BRING ME SALVATION FROM THIS MESS I’M IN?… OR DO I LOOK FOR ANOTHER?

You are a Christian. You openly and publicly bear the name of Christ… and you do it, consciously or unconsciously, for all to see. You identify yourself as a Catholic. You attend Mass… receive the Sacraments. As a result people are going to be looking at you… to examine your actions… to take a look at your life. And they will ask you certain questions.

You have been baptized. You have been confirmed. As we heard John the Baptist declare in last Sunday’s Gospel, he only baptized with water, but the One who is to come would baptize in the Fire of the Holy Spirit. You have been baptized in God’s Holy Spirit.

Having been marked with the signs of Baptism and Confirmation, and having been joined into Christ’s Mystical Body in Holy Communion, the Church sends you into the world around us. With Jesus, you are “one who is sent.” The word “Mass”, by the way, is derived from the Latin word “missa”, denoting mission, being sent.

And so as a baptized and confirmed Christian, as a representative of Christ, openly living the Christian life, you will encounter people who will be looking at you and your life and asking:  “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” Is your faith real, they will ask themselves, is your faith true and right, or do we look to another?

John the Baptist, sitting in jail, asked that question of Jesus in today’s gospel account because he wasn’t so sure about Jesus. Oh, he had heard reports about Christ. He had heard rumors about Christ’s miracles, miracles that were done quietly, privately, for only a few individuals, and without any dazzling, public display. John had even baptized Jesus with a baptism of repentance, an ancient Jewish religious practice that was not uncommon. John the Baptist had done that at the beginning of Christ’s public life. John was quite sure about Jesus at that point, telling everyone that he, John, wasn’t even worthy to carry Jesus sandals.  But now, sitting in jail? Well…. he just wasn’t so sure anymore. You see Jesus had not yet liberated the Jews from the yoke of the Romans and their occupying army. Jesus hadn’t vindicated the Jews in front of the whole world, and so John wasn’t so sure that Jesus really was the Messiah, the Savior, after all. Where was peace? Where was justice? Where was freedom from oppression?

Well, Jesus sent a reply back to John via John’s own messengers. Tell John, Jesus replied, what you see and hear — the blind see once again, the crippled can now walk, hopeless lepers have skin that is clean once again, people that couldn’t hear can now hear and speak again, dead men are raised back into life again, and men and women who were without hope now hear good news. And, Jesus adds, tell John that happiness will come to those who are not disappointed in me!

What, we must now ask, will be the message others receive about your life and mine? What kinds of things are happening in your life and mine that will give men and women hope? What will answer their insistent call to you and to me: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

Each one of us here should be able to give the answer that Jesus gave. People that know us should be able to see, to have a vision and see what the meaning and purpose of human life is all about. People should be able to dream the dreams that we dream. There is light in our lives, a light that shines in this world’s darkness, a light that points to hope, the hope of eventual victory… the hope of the triumph of good over evil… the hope of peace… a light that reveals the presence of God’s salvation in our lives. The blind, the spiritually blind in other words, ought to be able to see God’s presence in our world because of us.

Then there are the crippled. Others can see in us, or ought to see, a person who is actively doing something about the downtrodden in our world. We have, for instance, the Alternative Christmas Tree in the back of our church. Through it we are not giving money to some cause or some organized charity. We are giving personal presents directly to others. And please don’t misunderstand me – many of the great charities around us are noble. They’re very worthy and wonderful organizations. But here, as ones who in Christ are sent, we have with our Giving Tree an opportunity to directly respond to folks nearby.

The lepers? All around us there are persons whose skins crawl with self-hatred. There are those who have been ostracized by others, cast away and left to shift for themselves. They are the lonely, the socially underdeveloped, the so-called freaks, and so on. Do we regard them as lepers and refuse to even get near them, or even breathe the air that they breathe? The question put to us is “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another, O Christian?”

And then there are the deaf… those who can’t communicate… along with those who listen but do not hear. There are those who don’t understand Christianity, or Jesus, who have never really heard about Jesus Christ… those who haven’t studied His personality, or His character, and who might like to. Can you and I be an answer to their prayers?

And finally we are sent to raise the dead back to life again. I suppose for us it means going to those in our lives who are exhausted, depressed, worn out, dead tired, and giving them the energy of our love… giving them the power of our love along with our enthusiasm. It means spending a lot of time and energy on them… our own time and lots of our precious energy, helping them to break out of their shells and bring them back into life again. It means giving them hope… something to live for… to have lives full of beauty, wonder, awe, goodness, and all of those things that make life really worth living. It means giving good news to those who are near death and have nothing but bad news because they have lost hope.

And so, Christian, as Christmas comes to you once again – Happy are those who are not disappointed in you. For you are the one sent by God into those lives around you so that they need not look for another!

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”