Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Advent – “The Voice” by Fr Paddy Hennessy.
Lectio divina on Jn 1,6-8.19-28 – 3rd Sunday of Advent Year B
Today the Gospel puts before us the figure of John the Baptist: John sensed that the coming of God was near at hand and he began to proclaim it. His lifestyle and his personal convictions meant that he was not very popular with his fellow citizens. He did not mind what they thought about him. He was interested only in his personal mission and the God who was about to come. He knew that God’s coming was imminent and he devoted himself entirely, mind and body, to preparing for it. The witness of his life should encourage us today. We know that God has come into our world. We should not be too concerned about the fact that we still know very little about Christ or that we do not know precisely where to find him. Maybe we should have the courage to admit that we cannot compare ourselves to Christ, and that what others see in us is not what they will see in Christ when he comes. Then we will realize that the God we proclaim and the God we serve is far greater than we can proclaim and greater than we can ever imagine. That is how it was with John the Baptist. He was not the fullness of the light but only the dawn that heralded the coming of the light. He was not the messiah but merely his voice. He was not the one who was to come, and he was not worthy to be his servant, but he was good enough to live in expectation of his coming and to keep hope alive in others.
There was a man sent from God,
whose name was John.
He came for testimony,
to bear witness to the light,
that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to bear witness to the light.
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
John’s testimony is the first of a series in which the evangelist presents the person of Jesus, a series which will conclude with Jesus’ own self-revelation. The Baptist feels obliged to explain his actions and his mission: everything he does is to prepare for the one who is coming after him. With a triple denial he corrects the false expectations of the Jews. He is not the one they are hoping for, but only his spokesperson. He proclaimed the one who was to come, not the one his listeners were expecting or wanted to hear about. It took a lot of courage to go against the hopes of the people who had come to hear him, but John had to be faithful to his personal mission and to his God. For that reason John proclaimed by his way of life the message that he spoke in words. It was something his listeners did not expect: the promised one was already in their midst. Of what use is waiting if it does not prepare us to recognise the one we have been waiting for? The warning given in John the Baptist’s testimony is still valid: we could lose the God we have longed for and desired, for such a long time, simply because we do not recognise him in our midst.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Herein lies the mystery of Christmas and the reason for our joy: if we remember that God has become human, then as long as we live as humans among other human beings, we will never feel far away from God. If we believe in Christmas, we will recognise God’s footsteps in everyday events, sad or joyful, great or small. God is interested in people and in the world. He became one of us and dwelt in our world. When this statement of our Christian faith becomes for us a personal conviction and a daily experience, it will also be a source of profound joy, capable of overcoming any temptation and putting up with any situation.
The most frequent temptation – the most subtle and also the most difficult to overcome – is that of thinking that God has little to do with our world, that he has lost interest in us. The truth is that we live in a world so inhospitable and unjust that we easily lose hope. We find it hard to believe that God is still interested in us. We who believe in the nativity are the very ones who give the impression of accepting the present situation with resignation, and facing the future with little confidence. It should be the opposite. God has placed his trust in our world, to the extent of becoming a citizen of the world, Jesus, the Son of Mary. Why then do we hesitate to have confidence in our world? Why are we, the people who believe in the incarnation, the very people who have least trust in mankind and in the world? God has revealed himself as a man, weak and needy like each one of us and like all the other people we meet in life. Why, then, do we fail to see in every human gesture, the gesture of God, his smile or his plea for help? One thing is certain: we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we will find God in our dreams or far away in heaven. He is not to be found there!
Maybe this is the root cause of the sadness with which we live our faith in the incarnation: we do not find God because we are looking for him where he is not to be found. Our Christian God is always close at hand, in our neighbour, in the person who has need of us. This is the cause of our joy. When we learn to discover God so near to us, we will always have God with us. We will meet him in every encounter. We will recognise him in every human face. Having God so close to us cannot but restore our happiness in living. We do not have to desert the world of human beings in order to meet the Christian God, so there is no reason why we cannot live close to him. He is close to us and therefore we find joy and happiness in life.
Our joy does not depend on what we get out of life, but on the certainty that we do not have to lose what God has given us and continues to give us in life. The upcoming feast of Christmas should not be reduced to a family feast we celebrate once a year. Rather it gives us an authentic programme of life. The celebration of Christmas makes us feel that we belong to the family of God. Believing that God has become one of us has clear consequences. If God did not disdain to become human, then there is something divine, something of great value, in being human like our God. When we know that as human beings we belong to the family of God, no matter where we are or what happens, we have no excuse for sadness.
The best witness to God’s coming among us was a man who had nothing more to say than that he was not the one who was to come and they should not mistake him for the Messiah. Surely then we can find courage and strength to bear witness to Christ in our world. It is enough to know that he is coming, and that we are not worthy of him, not worthy even to be his servants. However, we have to proclaim him with our lives, with works that bear witness to him and words that make him known. To be Christ’s precursor we do not have to be better than others. It is enough to be Christian. Everyone who knows that God has chosen to be among us is called, like John the Baptist, to serve as his spokesperson.
If we put ourselves at the service of this God that we are waiting for, we will regain the joy of living in this world, the joy the Son of God found when he lived among the people of Galilee. If the world and its people were considered worthy of our God, what reason have we to be unhappy with it? It seems, indeed, that the world is lacking the hope in life and joy of living that are part of our Christian patrimony. Of what value will one more celebration of the birth of Christ be if it does not make us believers more human and more joyful?