Isaiah 35:1-6,10, James 5:7-10 , Matthew 11:2-11
It is Time to Rejoice.
To rejoice means to feel or show great happiness about something. It means to jubilate and express incredible happiness over something. Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. This 3rd Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday.
The name is taken from the introit of today’s holy mass which says “Gaudete in Domino Semper” meaning to “rejoice in the Lord always.”
This is taken from Philippians 4:4-5. Therefore, the readings of today are telling us that it is time to rejoice. In the previous Sundays of advent, the readings tell us to be awake and vigilant so that the coming of the Lord will not take us unawares and also to prepare for his coming not only materially but spiritually through prayers, repentance and penance.
Hence, this Sunday, the church is reminding us that the coming of the Lord is already near. Therefore, it is time to rejoice and jubilate because the Messiah we are preparing and waiting for is already around the corner.
We are rejoicing because He is not coming just for anything’s sake, He is coming to set us free. His coming is to save humanity. Let us analyze the readings gradually.
It is Time to Rejoice Again.
Isaiah started today’s reading by saying “Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy”.
When you take a critical look at this statement, you will observe that the words used have nothing to do with happiness. These words are wilderness, drylands, wastelands etc.
A wilderness is a forgotten, disfavoured, uninhabitable, rejected, neglected and abandoned area.
Drylands are lands that are characterized by scarcity of water and drought, while wasteland is land that is unused, barren, devastated, unimportant and unproductive.
There is nothing to rejoice about in these areas. In their nature, there is nothing happy about them, but, Isaiah was asking them to rejoice.
2. In application, this could be those times when we do not have hope. They are those times we seem to be dry, a waste, forgotten, abandoned, suffering, disfavoured, rejected etc. Isaiah is asking us to prepare, because the past is going, and the time of joy is coming.
3. The season of Advent is a season of hope, waiting, expectation, and anticipation, especially for those who still have much sorrow and sighing.
Therefore, Isaiah 35 assures us that the time of joy is coming. In essence, God has come to change and transform our situation. It means that “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
The Background of the Reading
1. To understand the first reading, let us go through the background of the readings to find the meaning it tries to convey.
The first reading of today from the book of Isaiah is one of the post-exilic prophecies in the book of Isaiah.
It was said that this book was written during the exilic experience in the land of Babylon but towards the end of the exilic experiences.
This time of exile was a time of suffering, slaughter, deprivation and sadness at the hands of the Babylonians.
King Nebuchadnezzar who is the mighty king of Babylonians and the army under him led by Nebuzaradan came to Jerusalem and shattered the city, burnt the temples of Jerusalem and left it in ruins.
Remember that the people of Judah took this temple in high respect but this sacred temple and its adornments were destroyed and devastated. It was a moment of sorrow for them because, after the destruction, they were taken into exile.
2. The psalmist in psalm 137 described their experience when they reached the rivers of Babylon. In Psalm 137, the psalmist says:
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord, while in a foreign land, If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill, May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you if I do not consider Jerusalem, my highest joy.
It was a moment of sorrow, tears and regrets. So, towards the end of this exilic experience comes the first reading of today, where God promises to restore them, despite their experiences. Because during this time, it was as if God deserted them.
They appeared very weak, and feeble, and their hearts had become fearful. There appeared to be no hope, no help, and no way to be restored and renewed. Then Isaiah came with a message of hope telling the people to rejoice.
3. Isaiah tells them that it is time to rejoice and sing for joy. They shall now see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God. Because the Lord is coming. He will strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and encourage the fainthearted.
God is coming also with vengeance and salvation. He comes with retribution, also to save us. His coming will make the eyes open, the deaf unsealed, the lame to leap and the tongues to sing for joy.
They will come to Zion shouting for joy, with everlasting joy on their faces. It is time to rejoice because the Lord has remembered us too. He is coming to us.
3b. This message goes out to all those suffering, lonely and forgotten to find rest in Jesus. In the first reading, Isaiah says that joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament have come to an end. Therefore, Jesus is coming to save us and wipe our tears. The time of sorrow will come to an end.
4. When you read chapter 34 of Isaiah which is the chapter before the first reading of today, God pronounces destruction on Edom because it collaborated with Babylon in the destruction of Judah.
Also when you read Psalm 137, from verse 7, you will discover that while the psalmist was describing their experiences when they reached the rivers of Babylon, they cursed Edom and asked God to tear Edom down.
Verse 7 says “Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
So, chapters 34 and 35 were promises of the answer to their prayers and restoration of the people of Israel back to their land.
Therefore, what it means is that just as we have a time of sorrow, exile, rejection, etc There is also a time to rejoice.
The time to rejoice comes after the sorrowful moments, this is why James tells us in the second reading to be patient. He says “be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming”.
God’s Way and Our Way.
1. While John the Baptist was in prison, He heard about what Jesus has been doing. John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the one who is to come, or to wait for someone else?’
One wonders the reason John the Baptist would ask such a question. We can remember that even before John was born, while he was still in the womb, the Blessed Mary visited Elizabeth, the mother of John.
“Immediately Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, John who was still in the womb leapt with joy. It was also John who has been preaching all these while about Jesus coming and he says to the people “Make ready the way of the Lord. and make his paths straight”
Also, John witnessed what happened during the baptism, when the heavens opened, the Spirit of God came down like a dove, and a voice from heaven says“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” So, it looks absurd for John to ask such questions about Jesus. Many reasons were given for this.
1a. The first is that one of the expectations of the coming Messiah is to set prisoners free. Isaiah 61:1 says “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.
And Jesus repeats this in Luke 4:18 which he said that with his coming, the prophecy has been fulfilled, So since his coming is to set prisoners free, why is John still in prison?
This calls for those times we think God does not want to answer our prayers. We wondered why God keeps silent. The point is that His way is different from our way. He has a reason for everything.
1b. Another reason could be John’s expectation of the Messiah. John told the people in Matthew 3: 10 that even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire”
He said in Matthew 3:12, that the one who is to come has a winnowing fork in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire”
So, John expects a Messiah that will cut down all those that refused to repent. He may be expecting a fire-and-brimstone messiah.
Remember what he did in Matthew 3:7 when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, John, said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
But when Jesus came, he was not doing the way John portrayed. Instead of wrath, Jesus is preaching peace, pronouncing blessings on the poor in spirit, the meek, and peacemakers (Matthew 5:1-11).
Instead of becoming fierce against the enemies of God, Jesus was busy preaching that they should “love their enemies (Matthew 5:42-48). He has warned them not to judge others (Matthew 7:1-5). His teachings seem so weak. This could also be the reason John asked if we could look for another messiah.
3. Positively, thirdly, it could be that John also uses that opportunity to point his disciples to Jesus. The question could be for his disciples’ sake and ours.
Since He was at the Jordan when Jesus was revealed by the Holy Trinity, It could be that John wants his disciples and all of us to know that the Messiah is already at the gate, that Jesus our God has come to save us.
While Jesus is pointing to what He is doing, invariably, He is telling us that in Him we can find those things in fullness both spiritually and physically.
The Time of Salvation has come.
1. When the disciples of John, came to Jesus, Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor, and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’
This means that Jesus brings physical and spiritual healing to the world. This is the description of what the prophet Isaiah gives of the coming of the Lord in the first reading.
Therefore, the time of salvation has come. This is no longer a time to worry, a time to be depressed, it is not like a time to live as people without hope. The story has changed.
Jesus points to the miracles that he does, which means that with his presence, the blind will see, the lame will walk, the lepers cleansed and the deaf will hear. Therefore, instead of dying in worry, we have to cling to Him.
2. Let us remember that in the first reading, Isaiah says that God is coming to save us. He also affirms that at His coming, the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy and for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.
It means that Jesus pointing to the same thing in the gospel as well confirms that He is the Messiah who is to come to bring joy to the world again.
Therefore, it is time to rejoice. It is no longer a time to feel so worried about your situation, The Emmanuel will now come to be with us in our trying times. Let us rejoice. With His grace, we shall win at last.
3. So, Jesus is the fulfilment of the hopeful vision of Isaiah. This is a joyful time of salvation. We can find hope in the healing Jesus brings to us and our world. If you need healing, restoration, peace, joy, eternal life etc, Jesus is the secret.
In Times of Sorrow.
Therefore, if the lord has assured us of his coming, if we sincerely have accepted what we can gain through His coming, if we wholeheartedly believe that Jesus can do even the impossible for us, If we can understand that Jesus means well for us, then we have to be patient according to the Second reading.
It means that in the moments of sorrow, in those moments when we feel that we are still in the drylands when it seems our prayers are not answered when we think God has forsaken us, we have to be patient still. God will still remember us.
James says in the second reading “Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains! You too have to be patient.
2. Secondly, let us not lose hope in times of crisis. James says “do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon.
3. Let us avoid wasting our energy on complaints, rather let us live in faith. James says that when we make complaints against one another, we bring judgment upon yourselves. Let us quit complaining, it is a sign of faithlessness and God does not like it.
4. Finally in the times of sorrow and wilderness, let us remember our Holy Brothers and sisters. Those passed through the same tribulation and persecution and still did not give up.
In the second reading, James says that we have to take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as our model. They teach us the way to remain faithful to God even in times of difficulty.
1. Today’s readings assure that the time of tribulation will not last forever. Imagine how the psalmist of psalm 137 felt when the people of Israel were taken into exile in the land of Babylon, they may think that is the end of Israel. But God knows that it is not so.
As the time of suffering, tribulations worry etc comes to you, the time of joy, testimonies and upliftment, will also come one day. Do not lose hope in God.
2. In moments of sorrow, let us remember those, who were once in those precarious situations, remember how they were able to go through them remaining victorious.
Remember how Paul and Silas in prison. They have every reason to complain but instead of complaining, they praise God even in the prison.
It means that even in prison, even in the deepest moments of affliction, what God expects from us is not complaints or worry. What God expects from us is still thanksgiving and praise.
Therefore, Praise God even when things don’t work well for you. This is faith in action.
3. Problems can make us lose faith in God.
Our hearts may easily discourage and weigh us down by the hardships we face in our everyday life. In all these, no condition or circumstance should be able to make us lose faith.
Let us always come to Him again now in the Eucharist. There, He can cause great things to happen. It is time to come to Jesus. The moment with Jesus is a moment of special grace and encounter.
4. As the Messiah is coming to bring freedom, restoration and healing to the people, the season of advent also advises us to be the same to the people around us. God may have put you in someone’s path to wipe away his/her sorrow. Many people need that little thing you can offer at this time. Let us be a solace and help them at this time.
5. As the Lord is coming to free us, we have also to free ourselves from the burden of sin and go for confessions.
There is this joy that comes to the hearts when the burden of sin is taken away from us. It is also a call to free ourselves from the prison of unforgiveness.
Many families today are living in dissension and long family discord. The best gift we can give to ourselves this month is peace, love and forgiveness. Let every family use this time and unite together again. It is a time to be joyful and not a time to quarrel over nothing.
May God help us and give us that inner joy that comes from the Lord always. Let us rejoice in the Lord always.