The Sunday Project

Consolation in the Midst of Darkness

Third Sunday of Advent |

By Jordan Kennedy
light shining in a window with bars on it
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First Reading
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you." Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Second Reading
James 5:7-10

Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 11:2-11

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings' houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.' Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

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When I think about the Scriptures, I like to start with the bare bones facts of any particular reading. In preparing for this week’s Gospel, here’s what I extracted: 

John the Baptist was in prison. He questioned whether or not Christ was the one who is to come. Jesus proclaimed to John through the disciples his great works, and after the questioning, after the need for explanation to the disciples, that yes, Jesus Christ was the one who is to come, He gives praise and acclamation to John through these words: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mt 11:11) 

This Gospel holds a lot for us. The first thing that I think we might overlook is the fact of John the Baptist’s imprisonment. John has been taken prisoner, and Jesus not only doesn’t scoff at him for being in such a way, but He communicates messages to him through the disciples. This shows, albeit in a subtle way, that Jesus cared for and valued John the Baptist, imprisoned or not. He valued John’s wisdom and foresight of His coming. John understood it, of course, far before most probably did. After all, the Gospel of Luke identifies Elizabeth, John’s mother, as a cousin of our Blessed Mother, Mary. Their relationship is special, connected, familial, and spiritual. I like to picture Elizabeth and Mary gathered in Elizabeth’s kitchen, talking about these impossible, unpredictable, unplanned pregnancies over tea, shaking their heads, crying, and laughing as their lives were on the brink of radical change and transformation. It is there where the unborn John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb, recognizing his Lord long before his locust-eating days in the wilderness, where even in the midst of hunger and longing he humbled himself before Christ. 

I love that in this Gospel, Jesus sends the disciples back to John to report these wonderful deeds. What hope! What consolation to absorb in the midst of the darkness of imprisonment these miracles, to have news from the outside world.  I always wonder if this was Jesus’ way of consoling John during his imprisonment, as if to say, “Brother, listen to the deeds I do through the Creator; this prison is not your last stop.” What is also so beautiful, my friends, is the way Jesus speaks of John the Baptist in his absence. To declare that there has been none greater born of women than John, to speak of him to his disciples in this way is nothing short of loving and tender. Can we understand this in our current time? I encourage you to put these beloved men of our Bible into the twenty-first century: one man imprisoned, the other free, and the free man speaking beautifully of the man who is not free, knowing that he will also be taken prisoner one day. It’s a sort of solidarity, when you think about it. It’s a knowing, before the rest of us know. It’s a lot to untangle, but this is the beauty of our Bible, our God, our Christ and our faith: there is so much beauty to untangle, so much love and relation to work through, we spend whole lifetimes trying to understand this grand mystery of creation, in all of its joy, wonder, and strife. 

This week, I encourage you to read this Gospel. Where do you see yourself? Are you the disciple running messages between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ? Are you the cleansed leper, the deaf one who hears, the one raised from the dead, or the poor who has heard the Good News? Remember, in this Gospel, that even if you are the least of these, you have a great place in Paradise, for the least of the least are the greatest of the great in the eyes of God. Remember those who are imprisoned today, during this Advent season, both in physical jails and prisons and within their own minds and emotions. Remember those living within detention centers at our southern border, especially the children, and those who claim sanctuary within our church walls. May they be consoled by the works of Jesus Christ as John the Baptist must have been in prison, may they hear the Good News in their deafness, may they raise up from their place of darkness, and may they above all else, know the consolation of the love of God. God meets them, and meets us, right in the valley of our deepest struggle.

May God continue to bless you this Advent Season – and remember this Gaudete Sunday, this 3rd Sunday of Advent to Rejoice. That’s what it’s all about.