3rd Week of Advent, Thursday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord identifies John using the prophecy of Malachi: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1). This prophecy epitomizes the season of Advent: today Our Lord tells his listeners that John is, in fact, the messenger who’d come to prepare the way for him. That makes him more than a prophet; he is the prophet who would prepare for the Messiah’s coming. John was conceived in Elizabeth’s womb only a few months before Our Lord was conceived in Mary’s. In the Feast of the Presentation we remember when the Lord came “suddenly” to his temple: a baby coming for circumcision. John’s mission began from the moment of conception, just as Our Lord’s did.

Today’s First Reading from Isaiah captures the joy of a new arrival due in the family. It’s time to make room. Yet Isaiah’s imagery doesn’t stop there: the arrival of a newborn is a sign of reconciliation in his family. Some estrangement between husband (the Lord) and wife (the People of Israel) has ended, and love has reunited them and born fruit in new children. Through Baptism we were reborn as sons and daughters of God, the fruit of the reconciliation between the Lord and his beloved People through the mediation of his Son.

Most of us don’t remember the day of our Baptism, but, like John and Our Lord, our mission as Christians began that day too. It’s no coincidence that the octave of Christmas ends on New Year’s Day: it’s never to late to renew our desire to understand the Lord’s will for our lives and take up the mission he has prepared for us.

Readings: Isaiah 54:1–10; Psalm 30:2, 4–6, 11–12a, 13b; Luke 7:12–30.


3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), Cycle A

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.

2nd Week of Advent, Tuesday

In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes the Lord not only coming, but caring for his people as a sheep cares for its flock. The Lord is powerful, but so tender that he imagines us as his lambs and ewes. Despite this idyllic portrait of pastoral life sheep can also be smelly, filthy, and ill-tempered. Just like those shepherds will be the night of Our Lord’s nativity, the life of a shepherd often means time out in the dark and cold caring for his flock, who don’t follow a schedule of 9 to 5 and, like a curious child, often obliviously go wandering into trouble, intentionally or unintentionally.

That is a perfect portrait of the Incarnation. Our Heavenly Father does not want to write off one single soul. Not one. Our Lord in his Incarnation has opted to leave aside the bright joy of eternal glory in order to come into the dark and cold night of our sin and seek out each one of us. Not just all of us; every single one of us. Sin scatters, and Our Lord has come to gather us together again. In the end he’ll chase down a fleeing soul all the way to the brink of death, as he did the Good Thief being crucified alongside him at Calvary. He spares no effort.

Our Lord is coming this Christmas to bring you out of the cold. Don’t hide from him.

Readings: Isaiah 40:1–11; Psalm 96:1–3, 10–13; Matthew 18:12–14. See also 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, 2nd Week of Lent, Saturday, and 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.


2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

Today’s readings remind us that the coming of Christ brings judgment, but also justice and mercy. John the Baptist is the last and most blessed prophet because he has the privilege of seeing the Messiah come, the Messiah to which so many of his predecessors had given witness. Today’s First Reading reminds us that the Messiah comes to usher in true justice: he goes beyond appearances to judge hearts, and he knows events as they truly happened, not just piecing together a case through rumors and innuendos. His justice will usher in peace: Isaiah portrays this peace speaking of predatory and dangerous animals who lay down alongside those they hunted, and nature itself will experience an unshakable calm.

Isaiah goes on to say that the Messiah will also be “set up as a signal for the nations.” Not just the Jewish nation, but all nations. Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds the Christians converted from paganism that they too were welcomed by Christ for the glory of God, therefore they too should glorify God for his mercy toward them. Christ comes this Christmas to bring us not only justice and judgment, but mercy and peace as well if we welcome it, and he offers it to everyone.

John the Baptist in today’s Gospel shows the way to welcome the Messiah: sorrow for our sins. It’s no coincidence that the liturgical colors of Advent are the same of the those of Lent: it is a penitential time, a time to take stock of whether we’ve welcomed Christ or others during the year. However, this time is also aglow with hope, since Advent represents the long dark centuries when humanity, lost in sin, seemed hopeless. Now the Messiah is at hand to usher in justice and peace. Just as John warns the Pharisees and Sadducees today, we can’t rest on our laurels. We struggle with sin throughout our lives, so we also have abundant opportunities for repentance.

Advent is only a week underway. Let’s reflect on how we can make the Lord’s path to our heart as straight as possible.

Readings: Isaiah 11:1–10; Psalm 72:1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12.