So, where’s the joy? It doesn’t seem to come easily. Many hearts are burdened instead by fear and anxiety. What moves us from angst to joy? When we recall the Scripture passages from the Third Sunday of Advent, we see that it is a matter of how we deal with the answer to a question.
Consider the Gospel passage (Matthew 11:2-11). John the Baptist poses the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” The question is prompted by what he has been hearing about Jesus. He knew that miracles of healing the blind, deaf and lame were the very signs foretold by the prophet Isaiah as indicating the presence of the long-awaited Messiah, or Christ. Since Jesus was doing these very things, John asks if the time of waiting is over, if the moment of the fulfilment of all God’s promises has arrived. Jesus answers in the affirmative. He is, indeed, the awaited One. But then Jesus goes on with the mysterious: “and blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
Offence? How could we possibly take offence at Jesus? Quite easily, in fact. Witness the crucifixion. To accept Jesus as the long-awaited Saviour is to allow him to change our lives radically. To that, we might quickly say, “Not so fast,” and refuse to accept his answer to John’s question. Especially in our day with its exaltation, and near worship, of the autonomous Self, any idea that another be Lord over my life is cause for deep offence. Yet, do we really want to continue as we are? Life apart from Jesus and his love is no picnic.
Let’s think again about those signs pointing to the presence of the Lord: the desert blooms, the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear (Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10). This means that, apart from him, we have persistent desert, lameness, blindness and deafness. As with most biblical images, these point to the state of the soul. There is today a vast interior wilderness of spirit, evidenced by hopelessness and lack of meaning; many are crippled by fear or addiction, blinded by moral confusion or deaf to the cry of the poor. This is no way to live. The way we move from desolation to joy is to accept that answer Jesus gave to John and to allow it to take deep root in our heart and change our lives. Only then will any inner aridity blossom in hope; only then shall we walk in true freedom, see clearly the truth of things, and respond sensitively to the cries of any around us who are suffering. Only then, in other words, shall we know true and lasting joy.