Is 35:1-6a, 10
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The themes of joy, hope and a steady heart flow from the message of today’s readings that the coming of the Lord is close at hand. The Church wants the natural joy that comes with the approach of Christmas to be illumined and lifted up by the spiritual joy that comes with the approach of Christ.
This spiritual joy is rooted in hope and leads to a steadiness of heart expressed in all three of today’s readings. Isaiah declares, “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…” James says, “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” In the Gospel, Jesus points out that John had a steady heart. “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?”
Steadiness of heart is what is needed as we adhere to the hope of the Gospel amidst a culture of death. The reason for this hope and steadiness is what the psalm today declares: “The Lord…secures justice for the oppressed…The Lord sets captives free.” These themes, of course, are what Jesus identified as the core of his mission when he quoted Isaiah in his first sermon (see Luke 4). He comes, in other words, to save us, and to accomplish through us, the flowering of justice in the world for all human beings whose rights – starting with the most fundamental right, life itself – are denied and trampled.
When we have a “steady heart,” we are able to face evil without minimizing it, and at the same time see that God is stronger than the evil, and will work through us to conquer it.
Because of this hope, a steady heart does not resort to immoral means to achieve good ends. A steady heart keeps everything in perspective, does not lose patience, and is able to work hard each day to bring into the world the fruit of the Spirit, and to help others do the same.