Memorial, St. John of the Cross

Today’s Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 45:6c-8, 18, 21c-25, Psalm 85:9-14, Luke 7:18b-23

All our readings during Advent have had elements of what the Reign of God, the time of the Messiah’s coming, would look like. However, today’s readings step it up to the next level. Salvation and the Messiah are central to what we hear.

As a result I felt a bit overwhelmed with the myriad of images in Isaiah, the Psalm and Luke. However, let me start with Jesus’ response to John’s Messiah question of whether he is “the one who is to come?” I have often wondered why Jesus’ response wasn’t, “Yes, it’s me, you don’t have to look anywhere else.” I mean why not be plain and open about it. Of course, it’s a way for Luke to say something important about how people come to believe in Jesus. Faith isn’t a set of facts about Jesus or God for that matter. Faith is a relationship of trust and it must begin for John in the same way. Jesus message for John is to look at what he can see: the healings, the good that is being done. Those actions are out in the open, can John see what they mean? That’s the point of the last line about not taking offense. John might take them the wrong way. He could come to the conclusion that this guy isn’t bringing the fire and brimstone judgment that John expected. He might dismiss him as not the one.

All of us do the same thing each day. Not necessarily about faith questions. We see something, or someone, and come to a conclusion about its significance, its value, good or bad. We make judgments all the time about whether or not to invest ourselves in projects, ideas, people and relationships. That’s what Jesus is asking of John. Does he see something here that’s worth believing in? The point of religious faith is to ask us the same question. Not just once at a Baptism or Confirmation or at Mass when we say the Nicene Creed, but at every moment in our lives when we have to decide what something is worth.

That is where some of the other images in today’s reading come into play. Isaiah says the earth was made by God not to be wasted but to be lived in. He uses wonderful nature images of a relationship between heaven and earth. Justice falls like rain from heaven and as a result the earth sprouts with its own salvation and justice. Today’s world is, in fact, filled with terrible horrific events. It is also filled with wonderfully generous, productive and life changing events. So do we see the earth, our world, as a good place that God created for us to live in? The text says, “Turn to me and be safe.” Will we turn to God and see that “there is no other” approach that brings about salvation and justice? Or do we take offense at the idea that this world has a good factor that underwrites its very existence? Does what we see lead us to decide that the world is too dangerous and simply not safe? Are we operating out of a fearful outlook that in all likelihood and under normal conditions something will go wrong? That’s a challenge to hope. It’s a challenge we all have to face. Which world is our world?

It’s why we need to hear the Psalm, perhaps today’s strongest message of what salvation, the Christmas we’re waiting for, is all about.

“The LORD … proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.”

“Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth”

Is this something we’re willing to take to heart? Can we invest our lives in this? Can we trust that if we live as part of God’s plan God will be with us? Is Jesus the one who is to come or should we look for another?

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