Sunday, December 11, 2016

Homily–3rd Sunday of Advent – Great Expectations

Isaiah 35:1-6a,10
2 James 5:7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

For years, my wife and I would return to her family home in Spokane during the holidays and we’d always have a great expectation for a big snow storm. The kind Mary experienced as a child growing up in eastern Washington. The kind I experienced a few times as a young boy growing up here in the Puget Sound area and several times while in college in Pullman.
Our great expectation was to go home, spend time with family at the holidays, and experience a giant snow storm. 
But, alas, it never happened. In all years we would go to Spokane at Christmas to visit with Mary’s dad, mom, sister and brother, big snow would be in the forecast. But it would never fall.
What great expectation do you have in our life?
A peace-filled Christmas season? Reconciliation with an estranged loved one? A cure for a disease your spouse is battling? 
John the Baptist had a great expectation, too.   As the herald of the Messiah, his great expectation was that Jesus would be the chosen one to unite and lead Israel and bring about the reign of God.
John declared to the people, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” 
John knew his whole life that Jesus was the Messiah. He even knew in the womb.
Yet, this week, we see an imprisoned John, depressed and disillusioned and wondering if, in fact, Jesus is the chosen one.  Many Jews in John’s time were expecting a great political or military leader. Jesus is anything but. 
Jesus echoes today’s first reading from Isaiah to remind John (and all of us) what the reign of God looks like:

“the blind regain sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Good News proclaimed to them”

Merciful healings, wholeness and re-creation of all things; Jesus reminds us to look for all these signs to see what the reign of God looks like in our own lives. 
Scholars say, “Jesus defines his role as not of sovereignty or judgment, as expected, but as one of blessing on the needy.”
Blessing on the needy is how Jesus – how God – shows His love for us.  
We are all needy or poor in spirit at times… in desperate need of God’s love.  Many times God comforts us in beautiful ways.
When the Kingdom breaks into our human existence – God’s intervention is seen in wondrous things. This is a saving God who brings new life. The one referred to by the Prophet Isaiah today.
Just as “the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom,” God’s love for us dawns in our lives in radiant beauty.
Not that we will be cured of our physical ailments. But we will find comfort. And we will see wondrous things!
The Letter of Saint James reminds us we must both be patient and prepared for the coming of the Lord.  
John’s Father Zechariah understood the joy of so great a salvation as he penned his powerful Canticle foretelling his son’s and Jesus’s role in our salvation history.  This is the son he thought he’d never have. Zechariah and wife Elizabeth are rewarded for their patience.
This is what he said in his Canticle, a prayer prayed by all Catholic clergy, religious and some laity every day in our morning prayer:

“You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
At first glance, you might think this passage is about great expectations parents have for their child. But if you look closer you will see it’s really about the great expectations people have for God.
The coming birth of Jesus is the dawn of God's reign.
Dawn is coming.  And darkness will be driven away soon by a holy light.
 In November of 2002, Mary’s dad Jack was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. He was given just a few months to live.
But those few months miraculously turned into an entire year allowing Jack’s family to show their great love for him and say goodbye.
A year after his diagnosis, we gathered in Spokane on Jack’s final Christmas and celebrated as a complete family one last time together. It was a beautiful, joy-filled gathering.  One we all will remember forever.
As we said our final goodbye and left Spokane a few days after Christmas, Jack went to bed and never woke up again. He died on December 29th, 2003.
We got the news the day after we drove home and immediately piled our two sons back into the car to return home to Spokane.
We arrived to a house filled with great darkness, sadness and pain. 
As we started planning the funeral, the weather forecast suddenly changed. Snow was coming our way. Meteorologists were predicting a major snow storm. We tried not to get our hopes up.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve day, the snow began to fall, and fall, and fall.  By noon, it was a near whiteout blizzard; dumping like we’d never seen before.  Over the course of 18 hours, nearly three feet of snow piled up in Spokane.
We took our boys to a favorite sledding spot behind nearby Whitworth College for the first time. As Mary, sons Sean and Connor, sister Beth and brother Danny cascaded down the steep hill, we all rejoiced in this long awaited great expectation of big snow.
  It’s one of our most cherished family memories. And it was a light that came during a time of great darkness, a time we were comforted by our loving God in a breathtaking way.
The big snow lifted our spirits allowing us the grace to experience faith, hope and love as we commended Jack’s soul to our heavenly father at his funeral a few days later.
 On this Gaudete Sunday, as we rejoice in the expected coming of baby Jesus, may your great expectations be fulfilled.  May you find what you are seeking in the coming of our Lord and savior.  May you experience the loving comfort of God in your time of need.
And may the coming birth of the Messiah be a reminder that love is the greatest expectation of them all. And Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s great love for us.