Friday, December 18, 2015

We have been told exactly what to expect, so why is it so hard to believe it when we see it?


John called two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus to ask Him, "Are You the Coming One or must we wait for another?" And when the men arrived they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, "Are You the Coming One or must we hope for another?" Then and there He healed many diseases and afflictions and Evil Spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. And Jesus said to them, "Go and report to John the things you see and hear. That the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the gospel is preached to the poor. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. Luke 7:18-23

Advent is a season of expectant hope; not the false hopes that dubious messiahs are forever peddling, but the promise that Jesus will come again to deliver full and final salvation to us.

When John the Baptist asked, "Are you the Coming One?" he was employing theological language that Jews had used for a thousand years. He was asking Jesus, are You the One David spoke of in the psalms when he said, "Blessed is He who Comes in the name of the Lord." Are you the One who will intervene and put a stop to the world's madness? Are you the One who will change the course of history and redeem Israel from all his iniquity?

But what made John ask it? he who had been such a stalwart of the faith, whose life was dedicated to one single, burning cause: introducing the Christ to the world. Prison has a way of doing that to people, and each of us is in a sort of prison, even if it has no bars.

Jesus wasted no time. He answered their question with a dramatic display of power. That very hour, St. Luke reports, He began to heal everyone in sight: to give hearing to the deaf, make the lame walk and to expel evil spirits which tormented people day and night. The display was not random. The Lord was showing that He was not only the fulfillment of David's prophecy, but of Isaiah's as well, and He knew that John would understand. Go back, He told the two disciples, and preach to the preacher. Tell him what you have seen and heard from Me and it will be enough. It was. Their report of the Lord's mighty power filled John with joy, and fortified him for his impending death. It seems impossible that anyone could face such a horrible end with calm, but we know that when the time comes the Suffering Servant Serves those who suffer with all the consolation needed, whatever the trial might be. On this we can rely.

No doubt of course, we would like to see the demonstration today that those disciples witnessed, especially when life's troubles pile on, but that's not how God works. The instantaneous miracles we read about here were reserved for a special purpose: to establish who Jesus was and to illustrate what would one day be universally true, but first there was the cross. First there was sin to be rid of, and for that Jesus would have to suffer in ways we cannot imagine. When our Lord says in Matthew 24:21, " For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be," He isn't talking about the end of the world, but about His passion, and the undreamed of struggle that would occur on the cross.

Although our Lord doesn't normally intervene with such breathtaking displays of power today, He is still the Blessed One who "comes in the name of the Lord." There is a reason the church has sung these words in her Eucharistic celebration for 1,700 years. These words best describe what happens in the Sacrament. Jesus comes to us today as surely as He did on the first Christmas, not in weakness now, to suffer or die again. The sin which condemns men to hell, and which is at the root of every distress the world knows, is finished. It is paid for, abolished, dissolved and forgotten, but in this holy meal our Lord gives us the fruits of His passion, to feed our starving souls, quench our thirst for righteousness, and to soothe our psyches as the world spins farther and farther out of control. In the Eucharist we obtain divine amnesty for all of our sins. We might tire of hearing that, and think that there are more advanced subjects to consider in the Mass, but we would be wrong, because without the ongoing blessings of the gospel the Old Adam would rise up and destroy us. Without the spiritual dialysis we submit to each Sunday we would die a thousand deaths. But Jesus intervenes not only with the forgiveness of sin but also, as we learn in the catechism, with Life and Salvation, and this turns our focus to the future, which is a good place to be.

In the words of Saint Augustine the Eucharist "turns us towards the Lord." It enables us to "see and hear" what John could not from his prison cell. It gives us the eyes needed to "look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." But it does more. This Eucharistic meal, in which we are made One with Christ and one with the Father, also propels us towards our final destination: in the words of St. Peter, "the salvation of our souls." Because Holy Communion is pure Jesus and pure Gospel and untainted holiness it breaks us free, if you like, from the shackles of sin that keep us earthbound. It releases us from this vale of tears, and moves us ever closer to the Lord who will wipe them all away. In the words of St. Paul: our salvation is nearer now, than when we first believed. The night is far gone, and the Day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Jesus is that armor. Jesus is that light. He is coming to save us. There is no need to look for another. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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