Life & Soul

Repentance is the best preparation for Christmas

St John the Baptist in Prison Visited by Two Disciples (1455/60), by Giovanni di Paolo

The Third Sunday of Advent
Is 35:1-6; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11 (Year A)

The prophet Isaiah lived through the darkest of times in Israel’s history, and yet his was the voice that never ceased to summon a broken people to joy.

“They will come to Zion shouting for joy, everlasting joy on their faces; joy and gladness on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them, and sorrow and lament be ended.”

The circumstances that transform the mundane into unrestrained joy will vary from person to person. The Scriptures describe such joy as our response to the all-embracing grace that welcomes sinful humanity into the presence of God.

Such was the joy of Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. He has looked on his servant in her lowliness. Henceforth all ages will call me blessed.”

Such too was the joy promised by the prophet Isaiah to a people whose hope had become a wasteland, whose faith had grown faint. Words could scarcely express the joy he promised.

“Let the wasteland rejoice and bloom. Strengthen all weary hands, say to all faint hearts: look, your God is coming, he is coming to save you.”

Advent bids us rekindle within ourselves the joy of God’s presence.

The prophet described the beginning of joy as sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.

During the days ahead may our eyes be opened to the many ways in which we have neglected and marginalised God’s presence in our lives. May our hearing, dulled by distraction, reach out to the beauty of his call. Such is the repentance that prepares a way for the Lord.

This Sunday’s Gospel presents us with the imprisoned figure of John the Baptist. His work as the messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah was drawing to its close. His final witness, martyrdom, would prefigure his Lord’s death on Calvary.

During the days ahead may our lives bear witness to the Christ in our midst. Our lives, like that of the imprisoned John, are hidden from the crowd. Like the death of John the Baptist, they may become a hidden witness to his presence.