Advent represents all of salvation history leading up to the Incarnation of Our Lord, and sometimes we lose sight of the fact that after the Fall the world was a harsh and unforgiving spiritual desert for a long time. Generations of prophets encouraged, harangued, explained, and warned God’s chosen people, and other than a faithful remnant the appeals on the Lord’s behalf fell on deaf ears. In today’s First Reading Isaiah paints the coming of the Lord as dried and arid land coming into full bloom, of people withered by poor health being restored, and of the pain of injustice being addressed and lifted.
John described himself as a voice crying out in the desert; in today’s Second Reading Paul describes the prophets as suffering hardship and showing heroic patience, waiting for their fruits of their work to be seen. John’s in the dungeon this Sunday and he’s waiting for some sign of the “precious fruit of the earth” Paul describes. In Our Lord’s works John sees something starting to sprout, and Our Lord tells him through his disciples that there are signs of new life coming into bloom in order to help him persevere in faith and hope.
In today’s Gospel, once Our Lord sends a response to John, he tells his listeners that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. We’re preparing during this Advent to commemorate at Christmas when the first shoots of new life began to appear, hidden in a cave at Bethlehem, that would blossom into salvation through our Messiah. We can still live in a spiritual desert, but that’s because we don’t let the Gospel bloom in our hearts. Let’s not make John’s work or Our Lord’s be in vain in our lives. Let’s start patiently sowing his Word in our hearts, watering it through prayer and the sacraments, and not giving into discouragement when the fruits seem long in coming. John didn’t see the fruits of his labors sprouting until the end of his mission; at Advent’s conclusion we too can see something beautiful bloom, if we keep at it.
Readings: Isaiah 35:1–6a, 10; Psalm 146:6–10; James 5:7–10; Matthew 11:2–11. See also 2nd Week of Advent, Thursday and 3rd Week of Advent, Wednesday.