Third Sunday of Advent: Year B

All the readings anticipate something present but not tangibly so--even something powerfully active though not sensed in the ordinary ways. The Isaiah voice, Mary in the canticle response, Paul in the second reading and John the Baptist in the Gospel all address hearers (their original partners and now ourselves) that need help and encouragement not to miss the mark but rather how to align with what is operative. Isaiah urges us to be among those for whom liberation from oppression is good news. Paul warns us not to squelch hope or crowd it out by our deeds. John the Baptist cautions us not to mistake or despise the herald. All allude, directly or indirectly, to a new and perhaps unexpected deed of the Spirit. Isaiah gives us a metaphor to examine: "As earth brings forth plants, as a garden causes makes its growth spring up."

But if you are a gardener, you may say, Hold it! Earth and ground are part of it, but to get good produce takes skill, care work, patience. And that may be just the point to ponder. How does the gardener align purposes and hopes, labor and love with the generativity of something far more powerful than we can control? And yet that’s what’s needed, and that’s what the voices of the readings are urging: How to align our energy with that of God’s Spirit.

What is new this Advent season that invites us to liberation, asks us to make room for it by our deeds, challenges us to discern as we hear it? One invitation is to re-ask ourselves what--and how much--we need for happiness, for health, for holiness. Maybe less than we have become accustomed to wanting. Without making any statement about large bailouts and rescues or about the greed and grabbiness of others, I feel invited to rethink what’s necessary, who’s important. This may not be a breath of the Spirit I’d have ordered, and possibly the hearers of these words of Isaiah, Mary, Paul and John the Baptist might agree. But if that’s what’s being blown toward us, let’s consider it and try to align.

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Barbara Green, O.P.

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