Waiting. Each of the three readings for the Third Sunday of Advent speak of waiting in one form or another. Isaiah 35, which hearkens the coming Messiah, describes that the “desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song” (Isaiah 35:1-2). Imagining abundant flowers is not easy in the midst of a Minnesota blizzard – as we are experiencing this morning – as it might not be a desert, but the sheet of white blanketing our land makes it almost impossible to remember the apples, raspberries, carrots and tomatoes picked just a few short months ago. Yet, we know the time will come when the land, fertile again, explodes in color and abundance. But the waiting of Isaiah is the waiting to end all waitings, the coming of God to his land and his people: eternal Springtime and abundance.
"Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
they will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee." (Isaiah 35:5-7)
James, too, however, awaiting the coming of the Messiah can only revert to the images of planting, waiting and harvest. “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8). The farmer prepares and anticipates, doing all that is necessary to ensure a good harvest, but then must simply wait.
John the Baptist, having prepared the way for the Messiah, sent his disciples to ask of Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2). Jesus’ response to them was a riff on Isaiah 35 (amongst other Isaian passages):
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus, however, does not stop here and he instructs the people regarding John, as if to say, "the one who prepared the way for me, the one who anticipated my coming, is himself a sign of me. He has waited and has seen the evidence and now, like all of us, he must wait for its fulfillment. The fresh, young shoots are not the harvest, but the promise of the harvest to come." And so we wait.
John W. Martens
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