Summary: I and you need to ask who Our Lord is in relationship to ourselves, and who we are in relationship to Him.
Third Sunday of Advent 2016
In nomine Patris, . . .
“Who are you?” “Just who do you think you are?” “Who in the world???” All of these questions strike at the fundamental awareness of our personal existence. All of these questions merit an answer, because what they really are asking me, for instance, is who I believe I am in relation to everything and everyone around me. People need to ask me and you who we are so that they can make basic decisions about how to treat us. And as we move out of the weeks of Advent in which we have been preparing for the second coming of Jesus, I and you need to ask who Our Lord is in relationship to ourselves, and who we are in relationship to Him. That way, we can be ready for the special grace-filled ways in which Christ will come to us in the Christmas season. You are going to love the Christmas present Jesus has for you.
But first we are challenged to understand who St. John the Baptist is. John was a cousin to Our Lord on Mary’s side. We know little about his upbringing, except that it was as the son of a priest of the Jewish people. He was in the desert, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. That was somewhat revolutionary, because the Jews had and have a special day for asking for forgiveness, a fall festival of fasting and prayer called Yom Kippur. But John was preaching and baptizing, it appears, all year long. So the Jewish authorities, especially the rigorist Pharisees, wondered if John was one of those pesky self-proclaimed Messiahs that cropped up every few years. Or, maybe, he thought he was Elijah come to preach the end of the world. Whatever he thought he was, he was preaching repentance, and getting very pointed in his denunciation of sin. So the Jews sent liturgy experts to find out John’s agenda. And this leads to the first of several testimonies recorded by St. John the evangelist. The first three are given by John the Baptist.
In this one, John tells the Jews that he is not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet who would come before the Messiah. He considered himself just a prophetic voice. John was wrong about this. Jesus later identified the Baptist as exactly the one who came to proclaim the true Christ. Before any of us can come to accept the true Christ, we have to admit that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. We need that prophetic voice convicting us of our own weakness and sin.
But John testified further–his baptism was with water, but a greater One than he already stood among the Jews, One far greater than any of them. And we know what that One’s baptism would be–a baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit that came upon the apostles at Pentecost after He died for us and rose from the dead. It’s the fire of the Holy Spirit we received in baptism and confirmation, and some of us were privileged to be given in a special way at ordination.
To be complete, I need to remind you that the evangelist also recorded several other testimonies in chapter 1 of his Gospel: John the Baptist further testified that Jesus is the Lamb of God, Jesus is the one on whom the spirit descends. Then Andrew tells Simon that Jesus is the Messiah. Philip tells Nathaniel that Jesus is the one written about by Moses. Nathaniel tells Jesus He is the Son of God and King of Israel. And then, in chapter 2, at the request of Mary, Jesus performs His first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana. It was the kind of action expected of the Messiah when He would establish the Kingdom of God on earth. In just a few verses, we learn who John the Baptist is not, and who he is. But we also learn who Jesus is, and what He will do. In just a couple of chapters of John, we get a summary of the Good News of Jesus.
That Good News is the reason for the rose-colored vestments. That’s the reason for the gaudete songs permeating the whole Mass today. Joy is our natural response to good news of any kind. I suspect I was not the only one filled with joy when I heard that pro-life legislators and administrators from both parties will control Congress and the administrative branch of government, and maybe even the courts. But that’s just politics, and political fortunes wax and wane every two years. Worse, the reins of our culture, the media, and the money spigots are still largely in the hands of folks who do not respect life from conception to natural death, and who do not respect the liberty of religion or personal conscience. If we are to live in a society that once more respects all human beings, regardless of age, disability, or economic status, millions of hearts have to be changed. That means each of us is called to follow John and Jesus and witness God’s love to the millions who are ignorant of that love.