Third Sunday in Advent
1 Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thesalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Advent is the season of hope. How often have you heard this statement and what exactly does it mean for you? Hope is defined as the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. However there is a difference between this secular definition and the virtue of hope because hope, as with all virtues, arises from the will. It goes beyond an emotional state to utilize our freedom of choice.
As we listen to the words of Isaiah today, we share the painful awareness that all things are not working out the way the prophet said they would. What has happened to the promise of the beautiful words? Today my family buried my 27 year old son-in-law. How can the broken hearts of his parents, wife, and seven year old son be healed except by the power of the love of God? Jesus will transform sorrow into rejoicing and the virtue of hope is what enables us to greet tomorrow. When faced with the realities of the poor, the suffering, those held captive by sin and addictions, and those imprisoned in various ways we stagger under the burden of helplessness. God’s promise lifts the unbearable burden of trying to be the Christ in our world. John the Baptist tells his followers he was not Christ and neither are we. We cannot answer the deepest questions of the human heart; we cannot offer perfect solutions to its greatest problems; we have no political agenda that will create the ideal society. Hope ultimately rests only with God and in the Word of God.
Today we also listen to the words of joy that Mary spoke before Jesus was born. These words were also with her at the foot of the cross. God’s love didn’t take away her suffering at the foot of the cross, but her suffering was enveloped in his great love, and so it was transformed. Mary is our model and by imitating her in the bearing of our own sufferings, through the power of God’s grace, we can allow the great love of Christ to transform us.
The Gospel of John is a book of “signs” — namely things and people who point to something or someone else. John the Baptist is sent to be a witness; he is a “sign.” The purpose of his coming and his witnessing is to point to the light so that others might believe. John was not just any man, for he had been sent by God (v. 6). This is an important claim, as no one else in the story apart from Jesus is described as having been sent by God. Jesus makes us part of that same plan when he says: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This suggests that we are not just ordinary people but part of God’s continuing plan of salvation for the world. We are also signs that are to point the world to Jesus, and through Jesus to the Father.
Many thoughts and feelings have swirled around me this week but the thought that was most prominent in my mind was, “how do people who do not have a strong belief in Christ survive the struggles of our world?” Then I listen as St. Paul encourages me to “pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This is the basis for my hope and I will light the Advent candles as a sign of this hope.
Kathleen Ebner is a member of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Lewes, where she serves as spiritual director and catechist.