In the Lectionary

December 11, Third Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:1–10; Matthew 11:2–11

Jesus' ministry is not what John the Baptist expected it to be.

December is so dark. There is a reason we light candles, sing songs, and gather together this time of year. In the Northern Hemisphere we do these things not just for the sheer joy of the season but to stave off the darkness crowding the doorway and nipping at our heels.

It’s worth mentioning this because everything in our culture this time of year tells us we are supposed to be happy: glossy magazines, manipulative TV specials, mass-produced Christmas cards, grocery store circulars. Inevitably we end up disappointed. The turkey is dry, the airport crowded; the shiny boxes that might have contained Lego sets and American Girl dolls hold school clothes and underpants instead. Even the church fails to deliver. The baby angels will be off pitch, the sermon inadequately uplifting, the crowd at the midnight mass a little thinner than last year.

And these are just the minor disappointments. Therapists and pastors know to save room on their calendars in December. Loss is magnified in a season of light. Empty places at the dining room table can’t be ignored. Job loss and debt are revealed in the paucity of the feast or the scarcity of presents. When there is no comfort and joy, faith falters.