Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Last week we reflected on preparing a way for Jesus to more deeply enter our lives and hearts as we move through the Advent season. Today, we hear again about John the Baptist, this time from John’s Gospel (John 1:6-8, 19-28), instead of Mark’s. And so, this may be a good opportunity to reflect on how we, using the Baptist as a model, are called to prepare the way of Jesus into the world in which we live.
Our call as Christians always involves both an internal and external dimension. We are required not to keep the Good News about Jesus to ourselves. This is not so easy in a diverse society like the United States. There are people who are openly hostile to any mention of faith or religion. There are others who pay lip service to the value of faith, but are really not interested. There are still others who are faith-filled but do not share our faith and would resent any attempt to "convert" them to ours. And there are people who are willing to dialogue about faith but are not contemplating any change in denomination or religion. However, they are more than willing to work together with us to build a better society (I have experienced this many times in my life). And then there are those who share the same faith with us, who support us and are supported by us in living out our faith.
So where does that leave us? I think our Scripture readings can give us some indication to how we might proceed. One thing that is necessary in proclaiming the Gospel is humility. In our Gospel reading The Baptist keeps saying over and over again that he is not the Messiah. When people then ask him who he is, he tells them he is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah (which we heard last week): He is the "voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’" In the Gospel’s words, we are "not the light," but we are "to testify to the light." But we cannot do this out of arrogance or from a feeling of superiority. First of all, that is not like Christ. Second of all, that kind of an attitude will get us nowhere. I think our best testimony comes from a humility that shares with others what God has done for us.
Another thing that Pope Francis is emphasizing, is to share our faith with joy and gratitude. This is what St. Paul tells the Thessalonians in our second reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24): "Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." Our sharing of the faith rings true when we demonstrate the joy and peace we have which comes from abiding in the love that God has for us. Are we not impressed by people who are not weighed down by their difficulties, not because they are in denial, but because of their trust in God’s love for them?
And finally, although this topic is not nearly exhausted by this brief reflection, we are called to share the Good News we have been given by sharing something of ourselves with others, especially those in need. In our first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11), the prophet Isaiah speaks of his anointing in the Spirit, and what that has led him to do: "he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God." Considering what may be going on in our lives, and what has happened in the world during much of 2014, it may seem downright delusional to do what Isaiah did." But remember, Isaiah and those who wrote in his name were dealing with exile and the return from exile. This book of Scripture was not written during some easy time in the history of Israel. And if we examine our lives, perhaps we can see times when we felt captive or as prisoners, and God delivered us, or the times when we were struggling to make ends meet, and God still managed to give us some joy. If that can happen for us, why can it not happen for others?
As we have heard the call to make a way for the Lord in our lives, may we follow the example of John the Baptist, and be heralds of the presence of the Messiah for others.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.