This is a here-is-your-God-moment, not a what-are-we-getting-for-Christmas moment. Just what is God like? Today’s readings shout out with immense hope and joy about God reaching into the world. Starting with Isaiah: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” Unless we are really jaded we should rejoice in the fullness of this God who causes the world to “bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” We enjoy flashes of God’s exuberance when we say the rosary or when we feed the poor. Today has to be such a day.
But there’s more. The readings explain that we can actually feel the glory and splendor of God in this world. The Greek word for God’s glory Δοχα implies a weighty presence. This means that we are meeting God on his own terms, not ours. This is what Christmas is about and not a single department store is involved!
Moreover not only is God’s presence signaled by the sheer lavishness of nature, but also in a further act God then “comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” After the wonder of creation in which God reveals Himself, he comes into the world to redeem us and he reveals much more about himself in the process.
Now, way back, centuries before Jesus, prophets spoke about God’s Messiah, the Anointed, the Christus (Latin) who would come to God’s People. In His presence would “the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” This was Jesus, who was not just about precepts, but about blessings. We have accounts of these miracles in his life on earth. They continue to happen in the Church up to the present day.
Then in a nod to God’s extravagance in the future, Isaiah continues: “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing.” We have the Lord’s ransoming presence at Mass, at Penance, and when we forgive each other. We get flashes of the Messiah among us even in the daily struggles of life amid all the dross and sin. In Isaiah’s words, we also get hints of the great community of companionship with God in Heaven. The nations will gather at Mount Zion, at the banquet prepared by God. These are further clues about the infinite abundance of God. This is your God!
The Prophet Isaiah by March Chagall, 1968
Singing the Psalm at Mass, we celebrate more of who God is. God is the one who “keeps faith” even when we don’t. He brings justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry, and sets the captives free. This is your God. The whole psalm celebrates the loving power of God. We are involved in these things as we enter into his power. We help bring justice to the oppressed because that is what people baptized with God’s Spirit do. Baptized feed the hungry and pray for healing.
Then the Letter of Saint James explains how we exist in the tension between the flashes of God’s wonderful actions in life right now and when his glory will be fully manifested at the end of time: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” The word “patience” comes from the Latin word for enduring or suffering. Intellectually we know that we follow someone who was crucified but we have to learn how to endure and to do it with grace. In fact, James reminds us: “Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” Being baptized will get difficult, as some of us know.
Doesn’t that prick the balloon? God’s plan is not at all sentimental. From the lavishness of God we then hear about our part in all of this. God’s generosity breaks into the world and challenges us mightily. Joining God’s plan takes endurance on our part. That is why James says: “Make your hearts firm.” We are not bystanders when God reaches into our world. His presence compels our response.
Now to the Gospel: Here is the fulfillment of the prophecies that we have just heard. John the Baptist heard about Jesus and sent people to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. (We heard about the Messiah in the reading from Isaiah.) He would heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and so on. These were clues to the arrival of the hoped-for Messiah. Isaiah’s prophecies were coming true in Jesus.
Then Jesus spoke specifically about John the Baptist. Jesus quoted another part of Isaiah where God said: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.” Jesus said that John was the Messenger – another way of saying that he (Jesus) is the Messiah. Jesus is God’s abundance personified – people are healed, fed, given sight by his presence.
This is the marvel of God. He is this healing and this generous and this close. On this Advent morning, we should be filled with joy that this is really God. This is your God!