Reflection for Sunday – December 11, 2022
Readings: Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11
Preacher: Sr. Karen Dietz
Imagine for a moment holding onto something that is very hot; a roll just out of the oven; a stone heated in the sunshine. Our fingers and hands are sensitive to the heat, and we probably would be passing the object from one hand to the other to cool it enough to handle. The same would be true when holding something very cold; a snowball just formed with our bare hands; a cold glass that has been stored in the freezer. Now imagine being asked to hold the hot item in one hand and the cold in the other at the same time. My hands ache just from the thought of it, and I can easily imagine the nerve endings in my fingers screaming with discomfort, longing for relief.
It seems to me this is the experience we are asked to embrace on this third Sunday of Advent. We are asked to hold both joy and sorrow, hardship and patience, strength and weakness at the same time. We find ourselves right in the middle of the Advent season and the definition of this season as a time to experience the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” could not be more evident. The first reading from Isaiah and the reading from the Letter to James clearly speak to the people of the coming of a Savior who will bring healing, joy, and wholeness. Both readings call us to that patient waiting of the season. The prophet and the author of the letter assure the reader that the time of fulfillment is at hand; all we need do is to wait and live the best we can.
Into this waiting time enters an imprisoned John the Baptist who, like us, is wanting word that the Messiah has come and that all his work and sacrifice are finally paying off. John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask if he is “the one.” Jesus sends them back with the message of his works and his impact on the world. After John’s disciples depart, Jesus continues to speak of John’s message and the import of his presence and his actions. John too is a prophet for the now and the yet to come.
A few weeks ago, as I was visiting the floors of a nursing home, I came upon a room that was uncharacteristically noisy and filled with people. I had intended to go in that room to take communion, but the closer I got, I realized that there seemed to be a “party” going on and I did not want to disturb. One of the family members noticed me and asked what I was doing. When I told him, he invited me in. The “party” was a vigil as the matriarch of the family was passing from this life to the next. There were 15 people crowded into this room and about 25 more were in the lounge waiting to take their turn. They had arrived laden with food and drink and were clearly in for however long it took. We prayed together and laughed and cried. Among those gathered, there were 3-plus generations. They told me the youngest family members were left home in the care of older cousins. This was an experience of holding the hot and cold at the same time, patiently waiting.
At Bethany House, a homeless shelter for women and children, we gather for prayer each Wednesday evening. On the walls of the chapel we have printed the names, ages and dates of death of all those who have died at the hands of violence in the city of Rochester so that we might remember them in prayer. Last week as we gathered, we had to add a third panel because the number of names has grown so large. The younger residents of the house (4, 5 and 7 years old) asked about the names. Their moms explained, not holding back. Sadly, in our city, the poor of all ages know of the violence on our streets. Just after these children learned of our practice, they switched to praying for their moms, for the shelter and for the earth; all things for which they were grateful. This too is an experience of holding hot and cold.
This third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday or joyful Sunday. This year more than some, it might seem like leaning into the joy is a real challenge. We are too aware of violence, poverty, polarization and so much more. And yet, as believers, we are called to hold both hot and cold as we patiently wait for the coming of our God. May God break into each of our hearts in new and unexpected ways this Christmas!