Third Sunday of Advent

Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Ph.D.

A year and a half ago my family and I left the balmy Gulf South with its mildest of winters and moved up here to Central Minnesota.  Amidst the congratulations and well wishes for my new job as director of ministerial formation at the School of Theology and Seminary, the most common comment was: get ready for that cold Minnesota weather! 

A fair comment.  But I have to admit that I was excited for our first proper winter in ten years. Especially around this time of year, when the liturgical season of Advent calls us to wait with patience, to be strong and fear not, to anticipate life returning to the arid and harsh desert, and to anticipate the splendor of the Lord.  These themes of Advent, in my mind must be felt in a cold and wintry land.  It was hard to “feel” Advent on mild Southern winter days, with citrus trees full of fruit and the spring bulbs already shooting up from the ground.

I am filled with gratitude to be back in the cold to experience into Advent.  There is nothing like a Minnesota winter sunrise, the light pink and purple, coloring the sky and snow in Advent’s colors. My first winter back treated me to plenty of these, and this for me was like a desert rejoicing and blooming, a harsh landscape coming alive not with flowers but with glorious color and light.  The splendor of the Lord is manifest in the beauty of creation, whether it be dry or frozen over.   There is much joy, warmth, color and beauty in the “desert” of a frozen landscape, if only our eyes are opened and our ears are cleared to it. 

Jesus asks in today’s Gospel: What did you go out to the desert to see?  This question (as with all his questions in the Gospels) holds within it an invitation to reflection and prayer.  What draws my spirit to the desert of the winter landscape this time of year is precisely the contrast of the severe and the beautiful, the darkness and the light.   There is tremendous assurance in discovering the grace of a context otherwise lifeless and harsh.  This indeed is a sight to see a sight that fills one with joy.  It is a sight that speaks of the Incarnation itself, of the Divine Word becoming flesh to dwell with us finite broken creatures and lead us to life.   Grace breaks through and infuses the arid and harsh landscapes of our soul.   We rejoice while we still wait, knowing we are already held by this grace, and we delight when we catch glimpses of it coming into fullness.