While We Wait, How Can We Rejoice
John the Baptist, in prison, sent his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus replied that the outcasts of society were being helped, and the poor were receiving good news.
John, sitting in Herod’s prison, was quite aware of the situation in Judea. His beleaguered nation, now a province of the Roman Empire, for centuries had suffered under the oppressive rule of foreign powers. The people were victims of heavy taxation, violence, and even the desecration of their holy places and traditions. At times their own political and religious leaders were unfaithful and oppressive. In face of this pervasive evil, John believed that his mission was to prepare the way for the “coming wrath,” when God would finally destroy the evil-doers and establish his kingdom.
John’s disciples, probably with some hesitation, told him that Jesus made no mention of the “coming wrath.” Nor was there anything about rescuing John from prison. Instead, he talked about the blind, the lame, lepers, the deaf, the dead, and about poor people getting good news. Jesus, realizing that his message might not fit John’s expectation, added the remark about the blessedness of the one who hears his words, and does not lose trust in him.
We may find ourselves in situations of violence, suffering and confusion; and we too will have expectations of how God will intervene. Isn’t our expectation that God’s presence will be some manifestation of superior power to make things right? Jesus realized that only the humble power of God’s love can vanquish the reign of evil and bring about a new kingdom of justice and peace. Love must actualize itself in defending and promoting the God-given rights of every human being–the fundamental right to live and the right to participate with dignity in the life of the community. Love, which seems most weak, most impractical, most foolish in the face of evil, is the only force that can change the human heart.
Only if we are able, like John, to be freed of our own expectations, will we be able to welcome the coming of the Lord and his way of love. Then we, also like John, may prepare the way for others to welcome the Lord’s coming. Why is it not surprising that Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Dr. King, all like John and Jesus, had to spend time in prison, in isolation and helplessness, to learn the message of compassion and forgiveness. (Campion Gavaler O.S.B.)
And what does all this mean for us? Each year, it all seems to get worse. The build-up to Christmas becomes more frenetic, more stressful, and more expensive with each passing season, and the word “Advent” seems to get lost in our secularized holiday outburst of consumerism. And yet, each year, the hope is the same. Each year, underneath the fast-paced, media-driven, frantic preparations for “the big day” – the family gatherings, the arrival of the little baby, the opening of gifts (followed shortly by the arrival of bills) – each year, so many of our folks express a yearning for something else, for something more, something deeper and spiritually more satisfying. Perhaps that is the greatest hope of Advent, that we are not looking back at a little baby in a manger so much as remembering that baby in a manger as we hope for what we look forward to: the coming of God’s healing Reign in all its fullness. Like John the Baptist, we ask who this person is, this Jesus, and shall we continue to wait, or has hope already arrived?
As Christians and disciples of Jesus, we believe that hope has indeed arrived in the person of Jesus Christ. We also believe that, as the Body of Christ today, we continue to embody hope even as we look longingly to a time when there is the fullness of justice and peace and healing in this world – not just a pie-in-the-sky, faraway heaven, after death, but real peace and healing here.
We are not the first to long for this peace and justice and healing. The prophet looked forward to the signs of healing in creation itself, when the parched earth would be transformed by streams breaking forth in the desert and the burning sands of the desert would become pools of refreshing water. Zion, the peaceable kingdom of last week’s reading, becomes the center to which all the people of God will come – again, flowing like streams in the wilderness – and no one will be held back by weakness of body or spirit, for God, whose power makes all things possible, will hold them up and carry them through. So, then, what are the things that make us fearful in this, our time of waiting? What are the dry, parched places in our life together? In what wilderness do we wander? Can we look at our anticipation more closely, and dig deeper into our hopes?
On December 26, where will we be, besides dreading the mail that brings monthly statements of our credit cards, or let down once again by holiday celebrations that didn’t quite measure up, or just exhausted from the effort of it all? Even if the holidays are lovely, is there not more to our hope and our expectation than just a lovely holiday?
How is God still speaking to us today, in the church, about our expectations? Do we want church to be nice, and peaceful, and free of controversy? Do we want an easy faith, a “safe” one?
The struggle of those who understand that faithfulness to the gospel can be costly. Even personally, how and when have we faced down these fears and moved through them? When have you been surprised, or uncertain, like John, about how God was at work in your life, and in the life of your family? In what ways do we long for streams to break forth in our own wilderness? And as we wait, how can we rejoice? (Kathryn Matthews Huey U.C.C.)