St. Bernard of Clairvaux outlined what he called the three comings of Christ:
1. The incarnation of Jesus as a human person – fully visible to all.
2. The intermediate coming – an invisible manifestation of God, the Holy Spirit, in the interior lives of those who are baptized and empowered by God to declare the Good News of salvation to all people.
3. The final coming of Christ will also be visible “and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.”
According to Isaiah, the time of exile— the separation of mankind from God due to sin—is about to end. This is the good news of the first coming of Christ proclaimed by St. John the Baptist in today’s liturgy.
Isaiah in today’s First Reading promises Israel’s release and return from captivity and exile. But as today’s Gospel shows, Israel’s historic deliverance was meant to herald an even greater saving act by God—the coming of Jesus to set Israel and all nations free from bondage to sin, to gather them up and carry them back to God.
God sent an angel before Israel to lead them in their exodus towards the promised land (Ex. 23:20). And God promised to send a messenger of the covenant, Elijah, to purify the people and turn their hearts to the Father before the day of the Lord (Malachi 3:1, 23–24).
St. John the Baptist quotes Isaiah’s prophecy, to show that all of Israel’s history looks forward to the revelation of Jesus. In Jesus, God has filled in the valleythat divided the sinful from Himself.
God has done all this not for humanity in the abstract but for each of us as St. Bernard emphasizes. The long history of salvation leads us to this Eucharist, in which God again comes: our salvation is near.
Each of us must hear in today’s readings a personal call. Here is God, Isaiah says, who has been patient with you as St. Peter says in the Epistle.
Like Jerusalem’s inhabitants we have to go out to God, repenting our sins, all the self-indulgence that can make our lives a spiritual desert. We must allow God’s grace to straighten our lives so everything leads us directly to Christ in our hearts and in our relationships.
Today, we hear the Gospel and commit ourselves to lives of devotion to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s coming.
Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11
2 Peter 3:8–14