A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah
(Chapter 35:1-6a, 10)
This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing because of the great promise that we hear from Isaiah. The prophet addressed this message to the Jewish people in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus—a time of crisis: exile from their homeland, the destruction of their homes and temple, and their enslavement by a foreign power. Yet, amid all their suffering, Isaiah has this powerful message of hope: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God; he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
We do not face the same kind of horror in our society, but what sufferings are you going through now that may seem hopeless or at least painful? Have any of your relationships caused you suffering? How can you bring healing rather than continuing the pain? Have you allowed relatively minor troubles to diminish your joy? How can you turn that around into thankfulness for all you have been given?
(Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10)
“Lord, come and save us.” Those words resonate with us thousands of years after they were written. How and when have you asked God to save you or someone you love? Do you feel you were heard?
A reading from the Letter of St. James
James is telling his hearers to be patient for the coming of the Lord. Of course, he is talking about the Second Coming which the Christians of that time thought would occur any day. Today, we are not impatient for the Second Coming. We hardly think about it, but we should always be thinking and praying for the continuous coming of Jesus into our minds and hearts. Let us think of Christmas not as the coming again of the baby Jesus. That only happened once, 2000-plus years ago. Rather, let us rejoice in the remembrance of that event that changed the world and shaped our lives so profoundly, and then enter into an even deeper bond with Jesus whose Spirit lives in us.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
Put yourself in John’s shoes, or rather sandals, for a minute. Here he is, a man with a mission from God to prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah, and he is stuck in prison. He is giving it his all, but he wants to make sure Jesus is the real deal, so he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” John is risking his life, and he wants to be sure. Jesus answers, “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.”
How many times has Jesus healed you, not necessarily from a physical ailment but emotionally or mentally? How many times has Jesus brought you or someone you love back from the death of sin or addiction or some other deep darkness? This week is a good time to remember all the times when Jesus healed you or a loved one in any way.
Maybe it is right now that you feel powerless or deeply injured. Ask Jesus to be present to you to help heal you. And this Christmas, let us thank Jesus for all the times of healing and all the gifts he has given us.
Painting: The prophet Isaiah, fresco by Michelangelo Buonarotti from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.