Third Sunday of Advent (A)
Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?
The Word This Week
In many ways the readings this Sunday are simply a continuation of last week Isaiah gives us more details about the work of the Messiah, and Paul invites us to continue to be patient until the Lords Coming. What is slightly different is the voice of John the Baptist this week: last week in Matthew 3 he was proclaiming with utter confidence that someone is coming. Now, in Matthew 11, he asks Jesus from prison: Is it you? For us, as we listen to these scriptures, we are being offered something very particular the prophecies of Isaiah (and indeed the prophet John the Baptist) are pinned down firmly and securely in the person of Jesus, Son of Mary in fact, Jesus himself, in his reply to John says as much: I am the Messiah that Isaiah prophesied. Again we are invited to hold the images of the prophecies in our minds until Christmas, when we can look on the child in the manger and say We know who this is: it is the promised Messiah God who comes to save us!
Notes for Readers
This is elegiac poetry not a very common form of communication nowadays! Spend a while thinking about the world into which Isaiah first spoke these words: a world of hardship and war, threats from overpowering nations, the fear of exile, life in all its uncertainty and danger. Imagine what this promise said to people in that age. Now think: what does it say to our age? Despite all our technology and advances, there is still uncertainty, misery, fear and danger in our world. Isaiahs prophecy is for our time too. Having thought in these terms, you should find the poetry a bit easier to handle. Like last week, take your time give people an opportunity to realise what you are saying. As well as sense lines, this reading is divided into very distinct paragraphs in the Lectionary. These are not accidental, but are there to help you (and your listeners!) Keep at the back of your mind the thought that this is called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday especially when you get to the end of the reading, let the last two paragraphs give people a reason to rejoice in the coming of our God!
Having heard from Paul so far in Advent, we now hear what Saint James has to say. If we are so taken up in the vision of Isaiah that we have just heard, we may find ourselves joining in the prayers of Advent: Come quickly, Lord! Do not delay! This is why we need to hear the encouragement of James, who says that in addition to longing and expectation, we need patience. We cannot understand Gods timetable how many times in our lives have we wished we could! Normally Saint James is rather fiery and abrupt. He is being much more gentle and persuasive in this passage. Read with a degree of gentleness and, indeed, patience! Remember this is still not so much about Christmas as about the end of time the you of this reading is still the congregation as we gather.