Look to the Barrens

3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

Is 35:1-6a, 10, Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10, Jas 5:7-10, Gospel: Mt 11:2-11

Gaudete – Catching the first glimpse of Bethlehem
The reason why we are wearing pink vestments today is because today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for rejoice. We rejoice because we can see our hope – the coming of Christ into the world. It is as if we have been on a long journey, and we have just crested a ridge and can get our first glimpse at our destination – Bethlehem. It is in Bethlehem that we will celebrate God’s greatest blessing to us; His Son. Christmas is the celebration that God sent his Son to take on flesh so that we can have a new relationship with Him.

The correct liturgical description for the color that we wear today is “Rose”. Rose is particularly fitting color as today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and rose has always been a symbol of our Blessed Mother.

The story of St. Juan Diego and the Blessed Mother is well known. She appeared to him on the hill Tepeyac, outside of Mexico City, and asked him to have the Bishop build a Cathedral there. When St. Juan Diego asked the Bishop, he asked Juan Diego for proof. The next day the Blessed Mother told him to pick some roses at the top of the hill (it was December) and to fold them into his tilma. When Juan Diego opened his tilma before the Bishop on the roses cascaded out onto the floor, revealing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his apron.

Through this miracle, the entire country of Mexico converted to Christianity within a very short time. Our Lady of Guadalupe began as the patroness of Mexico, but over time she has extended her mantle to incorporate all the Americas; and so today we thank God for the convergence of these two celebrations – the celebration of Gaudate Sunday and of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Why do we give gifts for Christmas?
Ask anyone you meet these days what Christmas is about and they are almost sure to answer that Christmas is about giving gifts. Why do we exchange gifts over this holiday? Why don’t we have Turkey gifts for Thanksgiving, and 4th of July gifts for Independence Day? We celebrate Christmas by giving gifts to the ones that we love because when we give gifts we imitate the big gift that God gave us on the first Christmas. When we give a gift we are giving of ourselves for another’s good. Giving gifts is a way for us to show our friends and family that we love them. Giving gifts is a way of putting our love into action.

Look for God’s presence in our weakness
In the first reading today the Prophet Isaiah uses the imagery of a desert as a symbol for our relationship with God. Isaiah shows us that God’s gifts are most readily seen when he brings the wastelands to life. Isaiah directs us to look to the deserts and wastelands to see God’s gift of life. He says “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.

God is our strength
Isaiah teaches us that Christ makes himself present in our weaknesses if we allow Him. He prays for God to “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened”. When Christ enters into our lives and our relationships they are transformed – we will see it because “Then will 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.

Relationship game
But what is our relationship with God like? If you had to use the imagery of Isaiah to describe your relationship with God what words would describe it? I want to invite you to take a moment and close your eyes and try to conjure up what that relationship would look like.

Fertile Farmland
Is it fertile farmland? Is your relationship with God filled with life and growth? Are you “on fire” for God? Is it a relationship where everything that is planted takes root quickly and bears fruit?

Rolling Hills
Is your relationship with God like rolling hills? Does it have its ups and downs yet still moves along? Is there a level of stability in it that leads to complacency?

Barren Desert
Or is your relationship with God a barren desert, quiet and empty of life? Is it a hard place where you have to work hard and get almost nowhere?


Review our relationships
No matter where we are in our relationship with God, or with our family and friends Isaiah can help us to understand what is going on in our lives.

· Where are you and I blind to our own sin that causes us to overlook our shortcomings in our friendships?
· Where are you and I deaf to the cries of the poor?
· Where do you and I fail to speak the truth, and because of our muteness our relationship is suffering?
· Where has our sin crippled our friendships because we lame and unable to act?

Who did you go out into the desert to see?
In the Gospel Jesus asks the disciples the question – “Who did you go out to see in the desert? Someone in nice clothes? Someone who would tell you what you want to hear?” “To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” John the Baptist was the greatest prophet ever born. People were drawn to John because he was a holy man, he was a man who let God direct his actions.

Let the Holy Spirit lead
St. John the Baptist allowed the Holy Spirit to direct his life. He did not worry if he was living in the desert, preaching by the Jordan or locked up in Herod’s prison. St. John surrendered all of his life to God. He knew that God can bring strength out of weakness which is why St. John surrendered his weakness to God so that God could be glorified. St. John knew that as long as he remained open to the Holy Spirit God would bring good out of evil no matter what. That is why Jesus says to John’s disciples – Tell John that “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” This is Jesus’ way of telling John that He is the Messiah.

How do we let God into our lives more readily?

Have Faith in God
First we need to be grounded in belief that no matter how hopeless or barren a relationship seems to be that God can breath new life into the situation. We need to trust in him that he will do so according to his timing.

Be a Farmer
Second, we need to be like Farmers. In the second reading St. Paul uses the imagery of the faith of a Farmer who plants the seed and then watches it take root in the ground. We too need to be firm in our faith – firm in our knowledge that if we are able to simply live our lives according to the Gospel then God will be glorified.

Farmers are Practical
Farmers are always practical; they like to dig in the dirt, water the crops and when the harvest is ready to gather in the grain. In a practical way we need to live our lives in accordance with the Ten Commandments. Isaiah gives us a clue on where to watch for God – look to the barren areas of our lives. St. Paul had a spiritual maxim; where I am weak God is strong. Where I am overcome with Sin, or temptation to Sin, that is where God can act in the most powerful ways if we only allow him.

Third – be patient
The most difficult part of the spiritual life is that it is an ongoing journey. It is not a novel where we can skip the boring parts. We can’t skip to the end to see how it finishes us. We need to live our way through it. Christ does tell us what the end is, but he doesn’t give us the details. While we are patiently watching the crops grow we need to surrender the areas of sin in our lives. We need to surrender the areas of weakness to God’s love so that Christ can fill these areas with his transforming love.

Gaudete – Rejoice!
When we are able to surrender the sinful areas of our life to God then God is able to bring the dead to life! Remember that no matter how barren or rocky a friendship is; no matter how blind, deaf, dumb or crippled we are by our sin; God is coming to bring us new life! This is why we rejoice today!

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