Is 35:1-6,10; James 5:7-10; Matt 11:2-11
Language of Advent
Today is Gaudete Sunday and the liturgical color is Rose. Gaudete means rejoice. The Readings for today are full of joy to remind us of the joy in expecting, joy in waiting for the Lord.
One of our regular guests here at Mepkin is the Christian Brother Joe Payne. He is a teacher at a center for English as Second Language in Florida. He shared that it gives him the joy to see how migrants’ lives flourish when given the chance to gain the facility of their adoptive language. There may be a lot of challenges but they are far outweighed by the gains. He once told me of how a young man was able to gain not only proficiency in the language but concomitantly also self-confidence for social skills like the simple task of going to the bank.
In the Gospel Reading John sends emissaries to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah or should they wait for someone else. I disagree with some who tend to comment on how John does not readily identify Jesus as the Messiah when earlier he baptized Him at the Jordan. I rather propose to consider that this was an exchange of rhetoric between the two cousins. This allows John to continue to pursue and fulfill, even while in prison, the final stages of his mission to prepare a people to receive Jesus introducing Him as the true and only Messiah; and likewise for the Lord to present Himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
I liken them to language instructors who, like Brother Joe, accompany people to gain the facility of communicating. Responding to John’s query, the Lord introduces his joyful language of the newness of life, of freedom and redemption as prophesied by Isaiah in the First Reading.
The prophet’s beautiful image of “the flowering of the desert” announces God’s saving intervention on behalf of his long-suffering chosen people. Telling of the splendor of nature in its “newness” and glory at the coming Messiah, the prophet exhorts to joyful hope the desperate people discouraged by the ravages of invasion and the Babylonian exile: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; He comes with vindication; with divine recompense. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened; then will the lame leap like a stag; then the tongue of the mute will sing. Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness; sorrow and mourning will flee.”
The Lord tells John’s disciples to report back how these are being fulfilled. He sends them not with mere words but with the truth and reality of compassion in acts of healing of body and spirit that brings great joy almost to scandalous proportions. He who grew up with and among the poor and lowly now comes out proclaiming joyful hope with His actions.
The Lord’s efficient language of proclamation is the simple and modest communication of personal encounter that evokes a life of faith: new life for the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, and even the dead. Indeed, the Good News is proclaimed to the poor. The Lord presents His own works not as judgment and power, but as divine blessing for the lowly people in need.
This is the language that the longed-for Messiah speaks in communicating to His people. And He expects us to fluently respond in the same language. Further, in Chapter 25, Matthew writes how Jesus gives us the vocabularies in communicating back to Him. He introduces and urges us to use His language of encounter, the language of compassion. We encounter Him and likewise, we become a means for others to encounter Him.
“Whatever you do to the very least of my brethren you do to me.” Just as Jesus has identified himself with the needy, he likewise identifies himself with those who exercise works of mercy on their behalf.
This is what some spiritual writers call the continuing incarnation. The Lord continues to be present, to be incarnate in the world for we, the Mystical Body of Christ, are actively present in the world bringing joy to the needy world.
On this third week of Advent beginning this Sunday, we reflect on the second advent theme – Christ’s continuous coming. After two weeks of reflecting on Christ’s Second coming and before the fourth week’s theme on Christ’s first coming, the first Christmas, let us focus on how to welcome Christ who is constantly with us. And we are sent as His emissaries to communicate in His Advent language of encounter, spreading His joy by employing His language of compassion.
We are sent into a world so replete with the foul language of sin, of corruption of human values, of violence, of self-centeredness.
As in any language we acquire, we lose it with non-use. Use it or lose it, so they say. We become more proficient with constant use. All through our lifetime we acquire a host of languages, verbal and non-verbal. Here in the monastery, we commit our life to learn and live by the language of the contemplative life- silence. Yes, silence is spoken here. Many come to learn this same language to take home. St Benedict, in his Monastic Rule, stipulates that we also employ the monastic language of hospitality.
But on this 3rd week of Advent let our common homework be to practice the language of encounter. Let us consciously engage one another in the language of compassion. And in the process learn the language of Christian joy, joy that springs from the certainty that God is present, He is with me, He is with us, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health. And this joy endures, even in trials, in suffering itself. It does not remain only on the surface; it dwells in the depths of the person who entrusts himself to God and trusts in him. Joy enters the hearts of those who put themselves at the service of the lowly and poor. God abides in those who love like this and their souls rejoice. And the Lord promises that proficiency in this joyful language of encounter is key to access, not just the bank like that young immigrant, but eternal life, where the only language spoken is the most ancient language that pre-dates human history, the divine language of Love- the only language that is ever both creative and redemptive.