3rd Sunday in Advent
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, "Who are you?" He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, "I am not the Christ." So they asked him, "What are you then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?"He answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself? He said: I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said. Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie." This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Introductory Prayer: Father in heaven, my mind is searching for the light of your word, to guide my life by it; my heart wants to learn to love as you do, with a sacrificial love; I seek firmness in my hope, in order to remain faithful to you and to live in this present world with my heart set on the life to come.
Petition: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart more like yours.
1. "A Man Named John Was Sent from God." God's action is clear in John's life, from his miraculous birth to his purification when still in Elizabeth's womb, then his extraordinary life in the desert, his baptizing and his preaching of the immediate coming of the Messiah. On the one hand he was a normal person, but God's choice was reflected in his actions. It is what God does in us, and then what we do in response, that sets us apart. John “was sent” by God, but John also “went”. He was not a passive pawn or robot in God's hands. When the time came, he had to make the decision to go into the desert; and then he had to freely take what he knew was a great risk in going to the Jordan to preach conversion. He started and some believed, but then John had to face the skepticism of many powerful people, and decide to continue ahead, overcoming their doubt and opposition, to the point of it costing him his freedom and eventually his life. No wonder Jesus asked the people later if they went into the desert to see a reed blowing in the wind (a fickle, changeable, politically correct opportunist) when they went to look for John; he knew John was the very opposite, and his question would make them recognize this. God calls whomever he wants, but the person called has to respond, we have to respond, or God's call will be in vain. And to respond to his call we need to brace ourselves for toil and sacrifice, like John, like Jesus himself.
2. "I Am Not the Christ." John knows who he is and who he is not. Honest self-knowledge is essential on the path to holiness and in answering our call. John's actions attract the attention of the multitudes in Israel. Now, many people would perhaps be flattered or even intoxicated with this celebrity status; John, however, knows where the center is, he knows where the true power of his preaching comes from. He never becomes the focus of his own life; his actions are never about him. Later, when his disciples began to get concerned that many of John's followers started to go over to Jesus and follow him, John would say simply, He must increase, I must decrease. Far from being disappointed or bitter about this outcome, he would tell them that he was happy for it. We don't know if this was a struggle for John, something he wrestled with, or if it came spontaneously, easily, naturally;, but we do know what he actually did, and it was the right thing. We also know that we cannot follow our own call unless like him we focus on Christ and stop thinking about ourselves, looking for admiration and accolades, and sometimes for creature comforts.
3. "I Am the Voice of One Crying Out in the Desert. Make Straight the Way of the Lord." John knows exactly what he is supposed to do. He doesn't know where the path will lead, although he probably must have guessed, knowing what happened to all the prophets that had gone before him. Although John is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament, he is also in a sense the pattern of the New Testament Apostle. Each of us is called to open the way of the Lord, so that souls can receive him. Our words and actions should be such that they open people to the beauty of Christ's message, and prepare them to receive him. Our example of love should wear down mountains of prejudice, our teaching fill in valleys of ignorance, and pave a path for Christ to enter souls. The big difference with John the Baptist is that Christ came after him, while he comes in and with us, because of our Baptism and because of the life of Grace in our souls. Christ identifies himself with us. Maybe this is why Christ said, after praising John the Baptism and saying he was the greatest of the prophets, that even the smallest in the Kingdom would be greater than John. Isn't it amazing to consider, after looking at John's tremendous example and perhaps envying him, that Jesus tells us we have received more than he? If we have received more, shouldn't our impact on the lives of those around us be greater too?
Conversation: Lord, you are the source of life and with life you give each one of us a task to do, a mission to fulfill. By Baptism and Confirmation you have called me to be your witness, a messenger of your love and your salvation to those around me. It is easy to give in and not stand up for you, to live as those who did not receive the same gift. It is also easy to make myself the center of my thoughts and actions. Give me the courage and humility to do your work as you want.
1. Am I passive in considering my call in life, do I expect God to work it out without my effort and input?
2. To what degree am I worried only about myself when I consider my call in life, how much of it is personal ambition?
3. What is the evidence that I am convinced that what people really need is Christ?