December 15, 2019 • Third Sunday in Advent
First Reading: Isaiah 35:1–6a, 10
Psalm: Psalm 146:6–7, 8–9, 9–10 (cf. Isaiah 35:4)
Second Reading: James 5:7–10
Gospel Acclamation: Isaiah 61:1 (Cited in Luke 4:18)
Gospel: Matthew 11:2–11
The readings for this Sunday are again looking at the comings of the Lord. Multiple comings are in view. The restoration of Israel after the return of the exiles, the first coming of Jesus via the Incarnation and the second coming when all things will be ultimately set right.
The first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It looks forward to and celebrates the coming return of the Israelites from their exile in Babylon. When the Israelites were carried off into captivity, the cities and towns fell into ruin and the land began to revert into wilderness and desert. Verses 1 and 2 anticipate their restoration upon the people’s return. Verses 3 and 4 is an exhortation to take this promise to heart and have courageous faith. Often conquered people were mocked, along with their gods, by their conquerors, who thought their victory was a sign that their god or gods were greater. But the God of Israel will set their captors straight with vindication and divine recompense for His people. The return of the land and the city of Jerusalem will be a time of revival, healing and rejoicing in verses 5, 6 and 10.
But this passage also refers to the first coming of Jesus, where He literally heals people as in verses 5 and 6. It also looks forward to the second coming, when creation itself will be restored. We shall be healed, and we will experience everlasting joy and gladness. Sorrow and mourning will flee.
The Psalmist reveals many of the same characteristics and actions in God as Isaiah — plus some. He favors the poor, the hungry, the ailing, the captives, the defenseless, the bowed down, the just and the oppressed. But He opposes the wicked. And He seeks to raise up, heal and alleviate the suffering of His people while thwarting the plans of the wicked. The truth is that He does these things all the time, but especially when He comes in His fullness.
The second reading, from the Book of James, looks forward to the second coming. James exhorts us be patient and keep working, like the farmer in anticipation of harvest and reward at His coming. We need to strengthen our hearts through prayer and meditation on His promises in His word.
Then James gives a symptom of loss of heart and patience, when people are complaining about and judging each other. He points us to the patient endurance of the prophets amid hardship and opposition, and counsels us to follow their example.
The Gospel acclamation reminds us of our mission to proclaim the glad tidings to the poor.
Even the greatest of God’s servants can wrestle with doubt and discouragement amid hard times. We see John the Baptist probably struggling with the fact that Jesus allowed him to remain in prison. So he begins to doubt whether Jesus is really the Messiah and sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is really the one. Jesus tells them to remind John that He is fulfilling the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah through His preaching and healing ministry.
It is important to note that John’s struggles to believe do not lessen the respect and love that Jesus has for John, whom He considers the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. And yet, those of us who have entered the kingdom of heaven are greater than John, because of the fullness of grace that we have received.
All of us are engaged in the grueling marathon of life in this world amid real opposition, suffering and hardship. We need to heed the words of these readings and fix our eyes on the finish line.
Hebrews 12:1–4 RSVCE
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.