Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 13)

“Who are you?” the Jews and Levites ask John the Baptist. He is emphatic: “I am not the Christ!” John is clear not just on who he is not but who he is. He says: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.” John is the prophet who comes proclaiming the advent of the Messiah. He is coming and he is the One who will bring with him the dawn of salvation.

The question of the identity of John and Jesus were questions asked in their day. Herod, after he had arrested and executed John ponders Jesus’ identity: “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” “And he kept trying to see him.” (Luke 9:9)

Jesus himself poses the question to his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” It is Peter who answers: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

Advent is the season of hope. Our hope is centered on the person of Jesus Christ. During the first part of Advent, up to Dec. 16, we as church reflect on Jesus’ second coming. Following that day our focus shifts to preparing for the celebration and “remembering” Jesus’ first coming. Jesus is the center of everything in life. Our hope depends on him who we worship as Lord.

Interestingly, Advent happens at the same time every year. Yet this year in particular its timing is a gift. Many people are looking for hope. Most people are tired and worn down by the pandemic. Some are dealing directly with COVID-19 through illness or grief by someone who has died. Some are filled with anxiety and worry. Medical personnel are fatigued. Some are angry at the quarantines and various restrictions.

Regardless of the degree or manner of influence, most people are fed up and want release. They are looking for hope. We are looking for hope. Advent provides us the time to have our hope bolstered in Christ Jesus.

Jesus comes to deliver man from darkness. He comes to lift us up to new life. The life he offers is one which no one else can offer – eternal life. God himself takes on human life that humans might share in divine life. He died on the cross and three days later rose from the dead. Hence we, as the church, acclaim him – Lord. He is the Lord of Life. As Lord, he shares life with us who put our faith in him.

At the heart of this relationship between God and man is love and mercy. God’s love, made known to us through his Son, is more powerful that anything or any force the world can throw at us – even a pandemic. His resurrection from the dead manifests the faithfulness of God to man.

Paul will write: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? …. No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth,  nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

Isaiah speaks of the dawn of salvation when God will come to deliver Israel and mankind by extension from all their fears. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.”

Jesus claims this description for himself at the opening of the public ministry. You may recall the scene in the synagogue when after he reads this passage he says: “Today, this passage has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Jesus continues to be the Lord of life. His words have been fulfilled. He is true. He continues to bring glad tidings, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty and to deliver us from fear. In these days we have the opportunity to be renewed.

While we prepare for his return and for the celebration of Christmas, we remember that he has come and is now with us. We are not a people who live in darkness but in the light. We are not alone for he is risen. He is alive. He is with us – here and now. He is the one who strengthens us on the journey through life.

St. Paul gives us some advice for building our hope: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” The three elements that bolster our hope are joy, prayer and thanksgiving. Joy because we are loved. Prayer because we love. Thanksgiving because through it we recognize that love and the gifts that God continually pours out upon us – either directly or through others.

Many of us are looking for hope. We are looking to be freed from this pandemic. We are looking to be delivered. Today we remember that we have been freed – freed from sin; we have been delivered – delivered from death. We share in the divine life of God, eternal life, now. All this is possible because of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. And so we can join in that ancient prayer of the Church, the Te Deum, “In you Lord is our hope, and we shall never hope in vain.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.