3rd Sunday of Advent (A) – December 15, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
As we continue this journey through Advent, one thing that continues to strike me, continues to pop-out, is how concrete everything is. I mentioned a few weeks ago that all of our readings from Isaiah (the first reading for all four weeks of advent) are making references to concrete events. Isaiah speaks of “all nations” going to Jerusalem, to the Temple (Isaiah 2), a time when God will again rule over all people, a concrete “day”—a concrete event. And “on that day,” we heard last week, “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11). Next week, Isaiah speaks of a sign, “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel (God-with-us)” (Isaiah 7). And today, Isaiah says that signs will accompany this person. Very specific, very concrete signs, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Isaiah 35). Each and every thing Isaiah speaks of points to a concrete event, a concrete something. “On that day,” during this event, you will be able to see it, touch it, feel it, experience it.
The important point in all of this, in our readings today, is that Jesus identifies himself with this event. John the Baptist is in prison, and so he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” And what does Jesus do? Does Jesus just accept it, and say, “Yes I am! It’s me!” No. Look at what he does. Jesus points to concrete events. Jesus simply says, “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.” The disciples of John ask Jesus a question about his identity, and Jesus “identifies” himself as the happening of concrete events. These disciples want a simple “yes” or “no”—“Are you the Messiah or aren’t you?”—but Jesus responds with, “Look at what’s happening. Look at the event taking place.” How frustrating is that?
Again, the hope, based on what Isaiah tells us, is that God is going to show up and take charge! It’s like God is going to come on a fiery chariot and just take care of everything. And that’s what we pray for a lot of times! We’re going through a tough time, there is a tough situation, we need something—and so we expect God to help us! Of course! But then the very first thing we do is explain to God how he is going to help us, how he is going to intervene in the situation. We all do it. And then, when our “wish” doesn’t come true, when our “prayer” isn’t answered just like we wanted, when “God” doesn’t do what we expect him to do—when this happens we’re hurt, offended, scandalized. We think, “God doesn’t care,” or, “God doesn’t really listen,” or sometimes, “God doesn’t exist.” This is something very common, I hear it all the time. People have trouble with faith because God isn’t answering their prayers.
That’s why I think the line that is most important for us today is this one: “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:6). We all know about the eight beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are the peacemakers…” But here Jesus gives one more: “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Or we could also read it as, “Blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause of falling” (NJB), or, “Blessed is the one who isn’t scandalized by me.”
Jesus knows that people just want a quick answer to their prayers, they just want instant gratification, they just want God to intervene! Jesus knows that people want a simple “yes” or “no,” that people want answers, that people want to understand him on their own terms. But that’s not how God works. All throughout history, that’s not how God works. And that’s usually what scandalizes and offends people the most. You hear it all the time, heck, you probably struggle with it sometimes too—I know I do. You hear, “If God existed, he never would have let that happen,” or, “If God is so good, why do bad things happen,” or, “My friend is so good, why would God allow her to suffer so much,” or, “Why doesn’t God listen to me?”
It is easy to be offended and scandalized at how God chooses to work in our life. It is easy to think that God doesn’t care, or that God does exist. That’s the easy route. But, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Blessed is the one who doesn’t abandon ship because things aren’t exactly how you would have them.
Remember, Jesus is not something or someone we can control or predict. Jesus rarely conforms to our understanding. No. Jesus Christ is very concrete, a real event. And just like many events in our life—marriage, birthdays, jobs, school, retirement, the death of a family member—just like any event, the effects and impact of the event are often unforeseen and unforeseeable. You didn’t know everything that was going to happen in marriage and all the effects and challenges and joys and difficulties on your wedding day. You didn’t know the effect that someone’s death would have on you. Jesus Christ is the event in our life. Jesus Christ, the event of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ happening right now, today, in your life—we don’t know what that’s going to look like. We would like to control it, but we can’t. We would like to put Jesus in a little box that we can define and control. We would like to be able to wrap it up and put a bow on it and not have to worry about it any more. But Jesus Christ demands a constant, daily, personal engagement.
“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” Blessed is the one who doesn’t get frustrated because of this and jump ship.
In Advent—every day of our life, but especially in Advent—we rejoice because Jesus Christ, God himself, has become the event in our life. In mass, in the sacraments, in prayer, in our neighbor—in the happening of concrete events in our daily life, Jesus Christ, God himself, is present. During Advent, we “wake up” to that fact. During Advent, we wake up and remember that we don’t celebrate “God was here,” no. We celebrate “God-with-us,” Emanuel. God is with us, Jesus Christ is with us, the Holy Spirit empowers us—and it’s very concrete.