Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Is it Christmas yet? No. There, I’ve just given you every small detail of the website whose sole purpose seems to be to answer that question. The website’s address is www.isitchristmas.com and when you go to the site all that you see is a big fat NO in your face. I have a friend on Facebook who, apparently, is checking this every day as he posts the response that he discovers on his wall. He’s a priest, so I would guess that he already knows the answer, but perhaps it makes him feel better that he gets the authoritative assurance from this website.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen on Christmas, but my guess is that I’m going to be a sucker and check the website, from which a virus will probably invade my computer and put it into meltdown mode; not, of course, before it robs my identity. You’ll know if this happened if you show up on the Sunday after Christmas and hear that I’ve been extradited to Uzbekistan on charges that I tried to rob the treasury of the Turkish embassy. (But at least I’ll know what happened on that website!)
You know that we’re a little bit crazy about Christmas when there are websites whose sole purpose is to remind us that it isn’t Christmas yet. Yeah, I know. Advent is just soooo long! It’s four weeks, at most! We have four Sundays in Advent and Christmas falls in that last week, so we only stomach a full four weeks of Advent when Christmas falls on Sunday. Nevertheless, two weeks into it, most of us are asking that question over and over again; right kids? How many of you have asked your parents or your teachers this week: “Is it Christmas yet?” Of course some of us are so far behind in our preparations for Christmas that we’re not asking the question, but rather crying out in fear: “Oh please, tell me that it’s not Christmas yet!” But I wonder if any of us have we ever stopped to ask the question, “Is it Advent yet?”
The prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, the apostle James—all of whom we heard from in today’s readings—none of them were concerned with Christmas. Rather, each of them was much more concerned with Advent. Last week, we heard John the Baptist crying out to the people, “Repent for the kingdom is at hand!” In other words, he’s saying “Get ready, Advent is here!” This week, we find John in prison. Herod the tetrarch put him there because he didn’t like how John was talking about Herod’s illicit relationship with his brother’s ex-wife. Now, prison is never a nice place to be, and so you can probably imagine just how horrible a prison cell in ancient Palestine would be. Thus, I think we can all sympathize with John, that although he had been boldly proclaiming the “one greater than he” who was coming he now was struggling to believe that Jesus was the one who was to come.
And so, John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come?” Really, if we think about it, what he’s asking here is “Is it Advent yet?” John was hearing about the incredible works that Jesus was performing, but he had some doubts. Isaiah prophesied that when the Messiah came “captives would be set free”, yet here he finds himself stuck in prison and so he wants to hear Jesus’ words directly: “Are you the one who is to come?” In other words, “Is it the Advent?”
Jesus, knowing that John knows the prophecies of Isaiah well, doesn’t answer his question directly. Rather, what does he say? “Tell him to go to www.isitadvent.com, there he’ll see the answer.” No, Jesus tells the disciples of John what? “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, etc…” Perhaps John would have taken Jesus’ word for it, but Jesus knew that the witness of what was happening—that is, the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah—would be much more convincing to John. And in doing so, he not only proclaims the fulfillment of the prophecies, but he also fulfills one himself: for Isaiah said “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak; say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” In other words, in sending this message, Jesus seems to say, “Take heart, John, it is the Advent.”
Saint James, the apostle, is on the other side of these events. He has seen firsthand the Advent of Christ. Now, he is writing to a group of believers exhorting them to be patient as they await the return of Jesus. “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming [that is, the Advent] of the Lord.” These believers, it seems, were anxious about Jesus’ return and so, perhaps, were asking: “Is it Advent yet?” James’ answer was, well, “yes, but no.” “Make your hearts firm,” James says, “because the coming of the Lord is at hand…” but be patient, because it isn’t quite here yet.
Nearly two-thousand years later, we find that the same answer applies to us. Yes, the Lord has come, and for this we rejoice. And yes, the Lord’s coming again is at hand, and so be patient and wait expectantly for it. If we’ve been doing Advent (that is, the season) well, then we get this and we can hold at bay celebrating Christmas before it is time. If we haven’t, then we are reminded that there is still time to do it well. The rose of the third Sunday of Advent is our reminder that the celebration of our remembrance of the birth of Jesus is rapidly approaching, but yet that there is still time. Time to pray, time to seek silence, time to open a space in your heart in which you can feel a longing for Jesus’ return; because when you do, you’ll know why the Church calls this Sunday gaudete, and you’ll rejoice that the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Is it Christmas yet? No. Is it Advent yet? Yes, definitely yes.