“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. / Indeed, the Lord is near.” This is how the Liturgy for this Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, greets us. It is an exhortation to rejoice. Why? Because the Lord is near this Advent.
“Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, / let the wasteland rejoice and bloom” is how the prophet Isaiah, at the beginning of the First Reading, opens to give us the message of salvation. In the Old Testament, before Jesus’s Incarnation (His coming as a human being among us as a child at Bethlehem), sins were forgiven by a priest “placing” a person’s sins on an animal and then sacrificing the animal. The idea was that the animal would pay the price for the person’s sins instead of the person (sound familiar? It’s a foreshadowing of Jesus!). The problem was, though, that soon after God instituted this method of forgiving sins, it became mere legalism, and many people were not even sorry for their sins anymore. They just did it because they were commanded to do so periodically. This is the kind of practice that the prophet Isaiah is calling “dry-land” and “wastelands.” These kind of lands are infertile and do not bear fruit. So it is with these un-sorrowful practices, they do not bear fruit or bring forgiveness like God wants them to: “Let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil” the prophet will go on to say in the same sentence.
Further on in the Second Reading, Isaiah prophesies a time where wastelands will become orchards and vineyards filled with abundant fruits: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, / the ears of the deaf unsealed, / then the lame shall leap like a deer / and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy / for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.” Isaiah’s prophecy has two different events in mind: the coming of the Lord as a human among us — the Incarnation; and the Second Coming of the Lord where He will come to judge the living and the dead. This prophecy bears the exact same two events that Advent does. We prepare for the coming of the Lord as a babe in Bethlehem and the Second Coming of Jesus in glory.