FROM A READING FOR DEC. 12, THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
'Do not complain against one another, my friends, so that God will not judge you.' -- James 5:9

Our sacred authors presume no one can live his or her faith alone. Believers need other believers to support and encourage them.

During a class on Amos, one of my students asked a pertinent question: Presuming this eighth-century BCE shepherd/prophet was illiterate, she wanted to know how he could have written the nine chapters of oracles contained in "his" book.

The answer is simple, but its implications are far-reaching. As far as we can tell, biblical prophets never actually wrote any of the prophecies we attribute to them. They delivered them orally, not in written form. The prophets' disciples were the ones who put their mentors' words into the format we have today.

That means no matter how rejected these men and women were, they could count on a handful of friends who supported them and made certain their words would be appreciated by future generations.

All the writings contained in our Hebrew and Christian Scriptures became a support to others of faith, assuring them they were not alone in their following of Yahweh and Jesus.

Doubting John
We hear the consequences of trying to live one's faith alone in Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11): "John in prison heard about the works Christ performed and sent a message through his disciples to ask him, 'Are you "He who is to come" or do we look for another?'"

The isolation of prison starts John the Baptist on the road to doubting his own mission of faith.

Though Jesus assures John's disciples about His own ministry, we're haunted by the fact that even someone as committed as the Baptizer could find Jesus a stumbling block. Being alone over a long period can lead someone to develop a devastating mindset.

That's why Isaiah's words (35:1-6,10) are so important today: "Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those that are frightened, 'Be strong, fear not! Here is your God.'"

No matter how firmly we're convinced that one day "the eyes of the blind [will] be opened, the ears of the deaf [will] be cleared, the lame [will] leap like a stag [and] the tongues of the dumb will sing," it's easy to take our eyes off the prize when we think no one else shares our vision.

We know from our Gospels that Jesus' preaching revolves around His belief that "the reign of God is close at hand," that God is working effectively in our lives right here and now. How long could we keep such faith at the center of our lives if we were the only one on earth who had such a conviction?

Patience, please
Even James (5:7-10) pleads for patience from his readers. He believes only those who hang in there will bring about the kind of world their faith envisions.

It's interesting which models of persistence he offers: "Take the prophets who spoke in the name of Yahweh." Of course, Scripture scholars tell us even the classic Jewish prophets needed to be supported in their faith.

It's important we fall back on the context in which we're hearing these proclaimed: the Eucharist. As liturgical composer Grayson Warren Brown pointed out, "The Church and its liturgy became necessary not to get us to heaven, but to get us through life."

It's in the Eucharist that our ancestors in the faith were most encouraged to make their faith part of their everyday lives.

Our fellow-believers are part of the force keeping us believing. We're not alone.