Third Sunday of Advent (December 11, 2016)
John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, called the baptizer in 3 gospels, came roaring out of the desert in last Sunday’s gospel. He was regarded as a holy man, a prophet. He told it like it was - a prophet tells not so much what will happen, but what is the unsugared truth.
Doing that got him in trouble; it usually does. He told king Herod it was wrong for him to take his brother’s wife. He was put in jail. That is where we find him in today’s Gospel
He has much time to think. He hears reports about Jesus’ ministry. His expectations of Jesus were not being fulfilled. He, like ourselves, expects others to be like us. Jesus was not the expected firebrand like himself. He didn’t understand. Doubts about Jesus crept in. He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask in his typically very direct way: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Jesus replies in his typically indirect way - quoting the same prophetic words we heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah [Chs 35 & 61]. The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk -- the fulfillment of the prophecies. Jesus let john draw his own logical conclusion.
A wonderful lesson for us! Jesus does not rebuke John for doubting. Having doubts about our faith can be spiritually healthy. There was a time when doubting our faith was tantamount to denying it. Doubting was thought to be serious enough to separate us from God.
Fortunately, the Church has progressed. There are reasons for our faith becoming shaky. I would like to look at three that are not uncommon.
First , doubting can come from sinning. It is well said: “If we do not act as we believe; we soon begin to believe as we act.” If we begin to act clearly contrary to god’s will for us, we can come to the point where we justify our behavior by believing we are right and God is wrong. So, we doubt him. Then, we avoid him - - as Adam and eve avoided God in the garden. Who of us cannot think of people we know who fall into this category including, perhaps, ourselves at some point?
Second, some doubt has no connection to sin of any kind, but comes from a deeply felt disappointment with God. We feel god should have stepped in or acted differently. God should have fulfilled my expectations. Who of us has not had trouble in this area? Probably, this area of expectations is the one with which john the baptizer was having trouble.
Third, some doubt because of the church that claims to represent god and in critical areas does not. We, and I mean we, need to realize that some members of the people of god do not represent God’s will. In fact, they represent god disgracefully poorly. For our part, we need to recall that the church is not god although many grew up thinking that the will of the church and the will of god were identical. John the baptizer did not have to contend with this issue. We do. We affirm our faith in Jesus, not the church as our messiah.
Some possible solutions:
The doubt that comes from seeking happiness in the wrong places can be fixed by seeking God’s will, not our own, and reconciling ourselves with our lord.
The doubt that comes from dashed expectations of god or the institutional church can be removed by renewed faith in Jesus, when I was a child, I remember being baffled by a sign in a donut shop. “As you amble on through life, brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut, not upon the hole.” My father bent down and explained it to me. It was a lesson for life, including church-life. Keep our eye on what is there and good, not on the lack of what is good. The Holy Spirit is still alive and well. Like the farmer in the first reading, we are called to renewed patience with the people of god. The result is the gift of joy that comes from our newfound faith in the Lord.
The possibility of reconciling with God - if that is necessary, and/or of renewing our faith is the reason for today being called “rejoice Sunday” on this, the third Sunday in advent. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Lord allows us to be in situations like the above to give us the opportunity of expressing our trust in him -- because that is, after all, what faith is.
When we weather the storm of doubt and enter the safe harbor of childlike - not childish - faith in a loving God whom we know would not harm us, we experience joy.
Joy is not a cheap emotion. Joy does not come as easily as laughter or as spontaneously as happiness. Joy has qualities all its own. Joy may be experienced as an enduring sense of satisfaction or a sense of elation. Either way, joy comes only through struggle: the pain of childbirth, the victory of a championship, the completion of studies, and the attainment of a deep life-insight.
Joy is the word of Christmas. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” said the angel. God wants us to be joyful. We read in John’s Gospel: “Ask and you shall receive, so that your joy may be complete.”
I ask you to finish the homily. Think of the times in your life when you were joy-full. Rejoice!