3rd Sunday of Advent

David Jackson considers the readings from Isaiah, James, and Matthew for the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

Isaiah 35:1-6.10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11.

Once more Isaiah runs his mind’s eye over a landscape transformed by the fullest flowering of the Divine dialogue. All creation comes alive as if reborn – in vivid image after vivid image, summed up in the beauty of ‘let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil’. Above all humankind is transfixed by a joy which opens the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf; it makes the lame leap like deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.  The presence of God excludes no-one; all shall come to Zion shouting for joy, everlasting joy on their faces.  ‘He is coming to save you.’  If we read Scripture without sensing that its developing and hence final message of the divine – human dialogue is directed at all humanity, then we misread Scripture. Election (of Israel, a ‘chosen’ people) is only so as to open the dialogue to all. Isaiah proclaimed the inclusive, universal nature of the divine will to save, despite the particularity of the delivery of the message.

The nature of our humanity and the nature of the message demand that particularity just as they both then demand its universal and inclusive application. Individuals are chosen so that all can be chosen. God speaks in every heart and hence to individuals in community. There are no people so chosen as to exclude any other people.  Israel and its seers (as Isaiah here) knew this at best; Paul was taken over and driven by its overwhelming vision and imperative; Jesus interpreted Scripture thus. God utters his spirit of mercy to everyone, in every religion, to all humanity – this should be, is indeed, the central creed of the Christian. No-one is excluded from the call to dialogue.  Jesus is chosen – the single vehicle of the dialogue made a person – so that all may be partners in the Divine dialogue. The Church cannot claim Christ, or the Spirit or God for its own possession. It can only witness to the fact that God is in all, for all, calls all and loves all. That is its only raison d’être.  Christians are the ‘people of God’ only in so far as they then proclaim that no-one is excluded from being chosen to be part of the ‘people of God’. All humanity makes up the ‘people of God’.  How could it be otherwise?  

Then James simply says: ‘Be patient’.  The dialogue offered to all humanity takes a human time to develop. It can come by divine miracle, but usually God waits on us, with sometimes a patience which lasts a lifetime.  Hence, we must be slow to judge, not complaining about others, who appear to be deaf to the dialogue.  It takes every one of us time to get to any realisation that God is in dialogue with us in our very hearts.

Jesus in Matthew refers to the effects of the coming of God in dialogue in ways which mirror Isaiah’s vision. A recent (2016) meditation from Richard Rohr has it thus: ‘Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own Jewish Bible in favour of texts that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and justice for the oppressed. He had a deeper and wider eye that knew what passages were creating a highway for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, and legalistic additions. When Christians state that every line in the Bible is of equal importance and inspiration, they are being very unlike Jesus . . ..’ 

The effects of divine dialogue are transformative of the human.  They bring people alive, but especially those maimed or dead or poor.  God wants them restored to health and fullness.  God’s ‘highway’ envisioned by Isaiah and trodden by Jesus brings mercy and justice and is inclusive. John is great because he is the forerunner of the one who embodied the Divine dialogue in himself.