3rd Sunday of Advent Year A

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A

Opinion polls are a common feature of daily life and will be more so in the run up to the General Election.

Who is the greatest man who ever lived? There was a famous boxer in the 1960s and 1970s who was a household name whose catch-call cry was ‘I am the greatest’. It was showmanship, entertainment, a challenge, a trick.

Jesus, in fact, tells us who it was - John the Baptist. We light two candles in his honour.

To be described as the greatest man alive, ‘born of women’ is some compliment when it came from Jesus. But to be in the lowest place in heaven is alright too and even better! It is in fact far greater than the loftiest position on earth.

The evidence for the coming of Jesus was predicted 600 years before in the First Reading this Sunday in Isaiah – ‘the lame walk, the blind see, lepers are cleansed.’ This is the sign that John the Baptist believed in and what he wanted his followers, more than himself, to hear and to understand. It was for their sake he was posing the question. John would soon go to his death in the knowledge that his work was done. This ‘greatest man who ever lived’ was destined for imprisonment, rejection, and beheading for proclaiming the truth of God’s law.

Jesus response to John the Baptist is the summation of His Mission and ministry. Jesus in effect tells us that there are 7 signs of the Kingdom that are also terms and conditions that apply to us if we are to enter even the lowest place in heaven! What are these ‘7 habits of highly effective’ Christians?

'The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised to life, the poor have the Good News proclaimed to them, and blessed is the man who does not lose faith in me.'
What has that statement got to do with you and me? There can be in all of us a spiritual paralysis, a spiritual blindness, a spiritual leprosy, a spiritual death, a need to hear the Good News, a need to persevere in faith.

1. Healing from moral and Spiritual paralysis is not just about laziness but negligence and delay tactics to avoid or to put on the long finger doing what we know to be right. We must ‘do the right thing’ rather than suiting our own convenience; to take initiative, to ‘do good, avoid evil’ in all the choices we make, from the little to the great. But we lack the right motivation. I heard recently that the average gym makes 30% of its annual income on people who back out of their exercise plans. Intentions are good, but change is difficult – there are no short-cuts to lasting change and improvement.

2. Healing from moral and spiritual blindness because we may have a wilful blindness to avoid the truth (because we lack humility) about ourselves – denial about moral failings, often obvious to others, but it suits us not to see them. It is a failing to make a true moral inventory of ourselves. It is failure to admit to God, ourselves or to others the truth about ourselves. We are afraid to come out of the dark and into the light of truth. . The 12 step programme of AA is worth getting our hands on and replacing the word ‘alcohol’ with ‘sin’

3. Healing from moral and spiritual death - the state of mortal sin We need to confess any grave sins as a matter of urgency. is the state of our souls in sin? –un-confessed sin, if we have been longer than a year away from confession for example, if we are hardened and oblivious to the need to seek God’s forgiveness –unlike a toothache or back-ache which finally prompts us to action because the pain is too much to bear, our consciences remind us less and less. What state are we in?

4. Healing from moral and Spiritual leprosy – is the state of our souls in sin? –confession is not a once-off because our tendency to sin is always present. We are in need of ongoing therapy, care, examinations, check-ups. How many illnesses go unnoticed or are not checked in time due to lack of vigilance?

5. Healing from spiritual deafness. We are guilty of deafness to the voices prompting us to see our true state and the need to improve. We may be also guilty of deafness to the cries of those around us. We may have listened less than we have been prepared to speak. We may have ignored those crying out for someone to give them our time to listen. Have we taken the time to listen to what God may be wanting to say to us – in prayer.

6. Hearing the Good News.
Most of all we need to hear the Good News and to take on a role in proclaiming the Good News by our encouragement, our advice, the witness of our lives, and taking on a concrete role in catechesis and evangelisation.

7. ‘Blessed is the man who does not lose faith in me.’
Worldly fame, notoriety, reputation, status, position, authority, ambition and power – all distract us and indeed fall well short of what God wants of us and what He is prepared to give us if we do not lose faith. These are testing times and people are losing faith in politicians, in banks and all in those who hold positions of trust and authority. But we must not lose faith in Jesus. The key word here is perseverance. More and more we realise that faith in God is something that we must take as a personal decision and take deeply personally as well.

A life marked by faith is not a sprint or a race but a marathon, a long distance where hurdles and obstacles lie in our path, where discouragement and disappointment can test our inner resolve, and which often ends for many people in a steep climb of suffering. But with our eyes on the goal, undeterred by mockery or criticism or worried about what bystanders say about us, Jesus will bring us to eternal life. We can learn from athletes who develop daily habits and keep a diary of what they have accomplished. They know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but day-by-day. Our daily habits must include prayer and the sacraments and self-examination of conscience and daily resolve to improve our prayer and our actions. That way we do not lose faith.

The Season of Advent therefore provides with opportunities to see, to hear, to be raised up, to walk, to be healed, and to renew our faith, hope and our resolve in following Jesus, who, in the words of Isaiah 'is coming to save us'.

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