The spirit of the Advent season is filled with the images of some of the most powerful figures in all of Scripture. The first, of course, is the Virgin Mary, constantly with us throughout this holy season, patiently awaiting the birth of her son - God-made-man, God-with-us - Emmanuel. This third week of Advent highlights the personalities of two others: John the Baptist, the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, preparing the way for His coming - and the prophet Isaiah - whose words are full of expectation, hope and joy.
The readings remind us that we are not waiting for God's promise of redemption to be fulfilled. Rather, we are to be living as people who have already experienced the incredible goodness of God... people who have come to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, here at hand, and who share His life... and as people who walk toward him - not in fear - but with joyful faith. Miracles continue to take place around us because of our faith, because of our common commitment to Jesus and His Gospel.
Through us, our brothers and sisters are able to put away fear, to move from darkness to light, to begin to hear again the words of life. We can reach out to support those whose hands are feeble, whose knees are weak. Because of Christ-within-us, so many who were crippled by doubt and despair are able to leap again with courage and energy and new life.
The challenging, prophetic voice of John the Baptist echoes across the centuries to be proclaimed as our catchword for this Third Week of Advent: "Make straight His way." Our God is the God of life, abundance, deliverance and joy. That's the Good News that consoles us, challenges us, gives meaning to our celebration of Christmas and purpose to every single day we live and serve as followers of Jesus the Christ.
No matter how we gather as people of faith in this holy season of hope, we do so together - preparing for another year of liberation. So the voice of fear is drowned out for us by the voice at Isaiah the Prophet: "Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication!" The voice of John the Baptist cries out in the desert, reminding us that we, too, are to prepare His way. And finally, it is the life of Jesus that reassures us: the brokenhearted are healed, liberty is brought to the captives and prisoners are set free.
The Lord, our God, a mighty Savior, is in our midst. That is the one reality that answers all our needs and dispels all our fears. But we have to believe! We have to make ourselves aware of that presence all the time. When and if we accept the fact that "the Lord is in our midst", then everything changes - for the better. We see and feel His presence in all of the ordinary events and circumstances of every day.
Our presence in the world must be the same kind of sign. Our lives must proclaim the same miracles of love, of healing, of reconciliation. Our goodness and compassion must touch those who are blind and deaf to the Lord. Our mercy and acts of service must free those who are crippled by pride and hate.
The Scriptures are meant to be experiential. Everything we read about in the Old and New Testament and all that it symbolized in belonging to God's people and sharing in the divine life is bestowed, not just as information, but as experience. If we stop at mere instruction, we have missed the main event. The lessons and symbols of God's Word reveal the graces that are being offered for the healing and enhancement of every level of our being.
The kind of openness that we bring to this Advent season is the key to understanding the Christmas/Epiphany mystery and to receiving it. And the message is this: We belong to the universe and to the God who created it. We belong to the God who is within us. We belong to the human family in which God lives and manifests Himself.
Just as John was a witness to Jesus’ coming, this Advent we ought to be witnesses to Christ already present in the world. Perhaps the pandemic has shaken us enough to refocus and to shift our attention to Christ and the kingdom of life he proclaimed. The pandemic does not seem to have slowed our consumption-driven culture very much and, in fact, may have intensified it. But, in truth, Jesus is already with us, even when the signs seem to indicate he is absent. Where is he when we look through a glass partition at a loved one on a ventilator in an intensive care unit? Where is he at the mile-long lines waiting for food? Where is he when we have to wait anxious days for testing? Where is he when we experience the loss of family members and friends?
The grace of Advent penetrates the inadequacy of all experiences and appearances, and we come to realize that there is nothing we can do, except to wait and to offer our longing, too deep for words, to God's infinite compassion.
Advent is not just waiting for a feast. It is waiting for God, waiting to be reborn, waiting to be transformed - seeking Him each and every day, in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Image: "St John the Baptist in the Desert" by Anton Raphael Mengs