“Rejoice in the Lord always; … the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5)

by Shiu Lan
Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

During Advent, not only do we prepare ourselves to commemorate the birth of Christ over two thousand years ago, we must also prepare ourselves that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed). In the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus teaches us to “be alert … for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:44). On this Third Sunday, we celebrate Advent and rejoice as in the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass “Rejoice in the Lord always; … Indeed, the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5).

Jesus came to John the Baptist at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John’s bap-tism is for sinners although Jesus is sinless. This gesture of Jesus is a “manifes-tation of his self-emptying” (CCC 1224). He takes on “the nature of a servant, made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). After Jesus’ baptism by John Bap-tist, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is revealed: “the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God come down like a dove and rest upon him. At the same time, a voice from heaven was heard ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, he is my Chosen One’” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Jesus’ ministry must have caught John’s attention and got him thinking further whether he is indeed the Messiah. So we hear in this Sunday’s gospel reading, when “John the Baptist heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples who said to Jesus, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3). Jesus does not give a definitive answer whether he is the one, and instead answers them “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). It is up to John to recognize the Messiah in what his disciples hear and see about Jesus and what Isaiah prophesied in the scriptures (Ref. First reading Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10).

Nevertheless, Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal to the crowds who come to listen to him that John the Baptist is “the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’” and that “if you believe me, John is this Elijah, whose coming was predicted. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 11:10, 14-15). Indeed, when angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah tell him that that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son whom he shall name John, Gabriel said that “[John] himself will open the way to the Lord with the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

The Messiah Jesus Christ has come and we will celebrate his birth on Christmas Day. Let us take a moment from our busy Christmas preparations to contemplate on what “the Lord is near” means for us (Philippians 4:5).