On this third Sunday of Advent, we reflect in the first reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (61:1-2, 10-11) in the readings for Mass today. This is a passage seen by both scholars and theologians to be distinctly messianic in nature. In other words, the Jewish people of Jesus’ time would have seen this passage as referring to the Messiah, the Anointed One, the King who is to come. In fact, Jesus himself used this very passage to identify himself specifically as the Messiah, the Christ, to the people of his hometown (Luke 4:16-19).
The Scripture tells us later in that same passage that the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus’ message of his Messianic mission utterly, going so far as to lead him to the edge of a high hill in the community that they might throw him over it, but he escaped. It is one of the few times in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that Jesus shows a willingness to identify himself as the Christ publicly before his entry into Jerusalem, and for doing so he is rejected by his own neighbors, friends, and likely even by some of his own extended family.
Isaiah reminds us, however, that the ancient prophets knew of Jesus’ coming for hundreds of years before he arrived, some even believe that the prophecies of Christ’s coming go as far back as Moses himself (Dt. 18:15-16). It is this prophetic reality that we remember each Advent when we remember that Christ came as a baby, growing into the man who died to redeem and save us, and that he will come again. This is why so many of the readings of Advent deal with the return of Christ and God’s righteous judgment as well as with the prophecies of the Messiah’s initial coming into the world, which we will celebrate more fully at Christmas. Before the Christ we worship and serve as God came into the world, the Hebrew prophets were telling the People of God about this Savior. When he finally came, so many were expecting him, but they didn’t recognize him when he showed up. Will we recognize Christ when he comes to us?
One of my favorite Advent hymns is actually a more modern composition, it was written by Fred P. Green in 1971, and it is listed in some hymnals as Long Ago Prophets Knew.
Long ago, prophets knew Christ would come, born a Jew, Come to make all things new, Bear His people’s burden, Freely love and pardon.
Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring! Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing! When He comes, when He comes, Who will make Him welcome?
God in time, God in man, This is God’s timeless plan: He will come, as a man, Born Himself of woman, God divinely human.
Mary, hail! Though afraid, She believed, she obeyed. In her womb, God is laid Til the time expected, Nurtured and protected.
Journey ends! Where afar Bethlehem shines, like a star, stable door stands ajar. unborn Son of Mary, Savior, do not tarry!
Remember why we anticipate and celebrate this season of the year, this is not merely a time for gatherings of family and friends, or Christmas shopping, or a schedule adjustment, although those things are not bad in and of themselves, and are in fact wonderful things when placed in their proper context. When we can place Christ at the center of this time of year and still do those enjoyable things without losing sight of what this season truly means, then we have celebrated Advent and we are ready for the Coming of the Lord.