3rd Sunday of Advent
Year B

Like a bride bedecked

When Lady Diana Spencer was preparing for her wedding to the Prince of Wales, every effort was made by designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel, and, in fact, by all the planners of the wedding, to prevent the design of the bride's dress from being revealed before the ceremony on July 29, 1981. Of course, the other dressmakers of Britain did their best to learn the secret in advance. The sooner they could start making copies, the quicker they could sell them to other prospective brides who would want to be married in gowns "just like Lady Di's." Fortunately, the secret was perfectly kept. Only at 5:30 AM on the wedding day did Buckingham Palace release to the news media a sketch of the wedding dress.

Probably the real purpose behind our custom of not letting a groom see his bride in her wedding dress before they reach the church, is that he may behold his chosen one in that moment at the absolute peak of her beauty.

How pleased Charles must have been when he saw his bride, her natural handsomeness enhanced by this rich and dazzling garment. Perhaps he even thought of the familiar words of the psalm, "All glorious is the king's daughter as she enters; her raiment is threaded with spun gold" (45:54).

But the Church has always seen the festal dress of a bride and groom as something more than device to please the eyes of the marrying couple. It is rather a symbol of the beauty of the souls of those who take each other in marriage. Or, if these souls are perhaps not yet perfect, their garb should at least remind them, "As you have clothed your bodies in loveliness, now clothe your souls in grace."

"… He has clothed me with a robe of salvation … like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels." (Isaiah, 61:10-11.) Today's first reading.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q349: Both Isaiah and Jesus felt the “spirit of the Lord God” upon them. Yet centuries have passed without solving the problem of injustice. Is the passage (First Reading) relevant today?

A friend (Rev. Mickey Anders) once pointed me to a website that asks for your solutions or opinions on “how to fix the world.” They have some interesting remedies, ranging all over the spectrum - - from “how to prevent tailgating” to “how to solve world hunger.” Like most inventions or pregnant ideas, there is usually something missing; but what is not omitted is the problem that led to the quest for a solution.

In our First Reading today (Is 61:1-2, 10-11) the “problem” is clearly stated. Far too many people are poor and brokenhearted, and many are prisoners (both spiritually and physically). Social injustice and lack of brotherly love are at the root of the problem, caused and aggravated by an unfaithfulness to God’s expressed will for his people. This problem seems to appear in every generation, because even Jesus tells us that we will always have the poor with us (Mt 26:11). But the “solution” is also clearly stated by Isaiah. Unlike the “fix the world” website suggestions, which are more like dreams without a chance of fulfillment, the Prophet Isaiah points to the “core” of the matter: justice and love.

Our God is a God of mercy and love; he is also a God of justice. In His divine plan, justice and love go hand in hand and are almost synonymous. You see this clearly in the Commandments and Beatitudes, and in the “last judgment” scenes from scripture. You cannot have one without the other. And God calls us to be his disciples, the instruments of his love and justice.

You will know that the “spirit of the Lord is upon you” when you treat everyone equally; when you speak out against social injustice; when you denounce cultural immorality; when you obey God’s chosen representatives (the Catholic bishops); and when you engage regularly in the well-known trilogy of prayer-almsgiving-fasting.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus Christ made this scripture above from Isaiah his inaugural address, proclaiming the Good News (CCC #714). It is because he embraced our death that he can now communicate his own Spirit of life to us (CCC #713). Isaiah (and Jesus) use the language of “promise” (CCC #715), and his mission becomes the mission of the Church – you and me (CCC #730), his instruments for transforming the world. Our empowerment comes from our Baptism and Confirmation.

Q506: These readings today (Isaiah 61, John 1 today) seem to be filled with visions of “looking forward” in great anticipation, set many centuries ago. How does that relate to today and my own life?

I remember one summer when I was a very young, maybe eight years of age. Mother dug out the Monky Wards and Sears catalogues, set them in front of me, and told me that for Christmas I could pick any one thing that I would like Santa Claus to bring for Christmas – provided it did not cost more than fifty cents. Wow! What wonderful news! Maybe Mother’s motives were just to keep me occupied and out of her way. Whatever the reason, I discovered another world of dreams and desires, and the next few weeks and months were spent tirelessly going over many pictures of toy airplanes and tanks, hunting knives, fishing odds and ends – everything a young lad just had to have but requiring a special and deliberate choice! When Advent rolled around, it was an even more intense time of waiting in eager anticipation, albeit for the wrong thing.

In Isaiah’s time, he was sent by the Lord to bring Good News to those who really needed to hear about the abundant blessings waiting for them. Centuries later, John the Baptist repeated that calling, pointing out to his listeners that someone was already in their midst, the light of the world that they did not yet recognize. For those with hope, that was absolutely wonderful news, because it pointed to the long-awaited Messiah!

Now, “fast forward” to today. As believers, we already know that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is indeed among us. His Real Presence is available to us at every Mass, when we celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy and receive his precious body and blood. Wow! No catalogue or announcement can replace the real thing! And yet, Advent is a time to remember all of these things: the promise, the waiting, the fulfillment of all in Jesus Christ, the Son of God! There remains the additional promise of a second coming. Are you as eager for Jesus Christ to return as you surely ought to be? How are you preparing your heart for his return?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! With John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to humanity of “the divine likeness,” and baptism gives us this new birth (CCC #720). How are you living out your baptism promises right now? Is your heart clean through repentance?

Great Expectations

Expectations are an important part of human life. We live in anticipation of what will happen --good or bad. Half the joy of a birthday, wedding, or Christmas lies in the anticipation. On the other hand the anticipation of what awaits us at the dentist's office, the IRS examiner, or the principal's office increases the pain. Such expectations, like the proclamation in today's readings of God coming to fulfill his promises, can give us the push we need to make changes in our lives. But great expectations can also be dangerous. We could get so focused on what will happen that we do not look closely enough at what is happening here and now. That's what happened in today's gospel. The religious leaders of Israel were so intent on looking for signs of the coming that they failed to recognize what was in their midst – Jesus the Messiah himself.

Lord, our God, fill us with joyous anticipation of your coming at Christmas and at the end time. Sustain us in our Advent waiting by helping us to recognize the ways in which you are already here in our midst helping us to prepare for your final coming.