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?”
It is curious that John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ask that question. The fact that he did so raises other questions. Did John the Baptist, in prison and about to be put to death, surrender to doubt? It doesn’t seem likely because he had earlier, when he baptized Jesus in the Jordan, proclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Perhaps John the Baptist didn’t need to hear Jesus’ answer but his disciples did need to hear it.
We are in Advent, a time that sums up all of the years and centuries before God’s Promised One came to us. Throughout all of those centuries people had been waiting with longing for “He who is to come.” All of the great Jewish prophets had consistently proclaimed that God would one day send His Messiah to save us.
Now He was here among us. Whereas all of the Old Testament prophets has proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, John the Baptist actually pointed out His presence among us. John was the greatest of them all because he had the privilege of not just prophesying about the coming of the Messiah but actually pointing out His real, physical presence here among us. John the Baptist, among all the prophets, was able to proclaim that God had indeed fulfilled His promise to us.
There are a few things in life that can really devastate us. Among them are broken promises and unmet expectations. We live in an era of broken promises and frustrated expectations. The acid effects of the Vietnam War, of Watergate, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, our divorce rate, the number of broken households, the abuse of children, to mention only a few instances, beset us daily. Because of many broken promises we have a lot of broken hearts.
Many of us who are old enough to clearly remember all that occurred during the Second Vatican Council feel that its promise and hope remain unmet. Others prefer to dismiss Vatican II altogether. Membership in Christian churches is falling and our own Catholic Church faces parish closings, mergers, and consolidations with other parishes. We live with many severe losses and dashed hopes.
It is in this context that just two weeks before Christmas Holy Mother Church presents us with today’s liturgy in which we hear in the first reading the words: Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! “Be strong. Fear not.” Isaiah tells us that God will make the world fresh and new again.
The second reading of today’s Mass has a similar theme: Said St. James: Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
As you and I live out our Christian faith trying to make the life of Jesus a reality in our own lives, many are going to be observing us. At certain key moments, people are going to be looking to you and to me hoping we will help them find their way out of the troubles and difficulties they face. Indirectly, perhaps very quietly, they might ask you: Are you the one who can help me? Can you bring me salvation in this mess? Are you the one who is to come, or should I look for another?
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 are a Christian. You openly and publicly bear the name of Christ… and you do it for all to see. You identify yourself as a Catholic. You attend Mass… receive the Sacraments. As a result people are going to look at you… to examine your actions… to look into your life. And they will ask you certain questions.
What, we must now ask, will be the message others receive about your life and mine? What kind of things are happening in your life and mine that will give men and women hope? What will answer their insistent call to you: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” Already, as we all know, there are a whole lot of people who have left Christianity and have adopted alternative spiritualities because they find Christians wanting in terms of what they should be.
Each one of us here should be able to give the answer that Jesus gave. People who know us should be able to see what the meaning and purpose of human life is all about. We can share our vision with them. There is light in our lives, a light that shines in he 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 salvation in our lives. The blind, the spiritually blind, in other words, ought to be able to see God’s presence in our humanity.
Then there are the crippled. Those who are economically crippled should see us as persons who are actively doing something about the downtrodden in our world. Here we have a pretty good record. We have given and continue to give a lot of money to organized charities. Many of our youngsters have, on their spring breaks from school, traveled to Appalachia, New Orleans, and other sites to personally help those who are less fortunate that we are. Moreover, many of our parishes have Christmas food collections along with gift collections in which people have opportunities to directly care for folks nearby to celebrate Christmas with some real cheer.
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? “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another, O Christian?”
And there are the deaf… those who can’t communicate… 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… who haven’t heard about and studied His personality… His character… and who would 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 that means going to those whom we know that are exhausted, worn out, dead tired, and giving them the energy of our love… giving them the power of our love, 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 shell and bring them back into life again. It means giving them hope… something to live for… a life 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.
We bear with us, or should bear with us, the answer Christ gave to John’s disciples: Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.
And so, my brothers and sisters, as Christmas comes to you once again – happy are those who are not disappointed in you. You are the one sent by God into their lives so that they need not look for another!
Be an extra ordinary Christian… we have enough of ordinary ones.