Our Prior, Fr. Joel Macul celebrated Holy Mass on this 3rd Sunday of Advent. Read his homily below or watch the video.
Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11
I Thessalonians 5:16–24
John 1:6–8, 19–28
John the Baptist is still with us. Last week we heard him as a herald, as a messenger, proclaiming baptism for forgiveness, dressed in camel’s hair—by all accounts a rough figure. The gospel today definitely shifts the description. It describes John as simply a man giving testimony, as bearing witness. John is someone who testifies on behalf of someone else. He is not out in the desert or at the edge of the Jordan to speak for himself, about himself. His only purpose is to speak for another.
The Gospel of John has its own understanding of John. In fact, his baptizing is minimal. Instead, in this Gospel John might be better called John the Testifier, John the Witness. For that is what he is.
There is something very certain about John, a man sent by God. He seems so sure of his identity. He lets no one tell him who he is. Nor does he let other people place expectations on him. He will not deceive anyone but he will not allow anyone to name him. He knows very well there is a feeling of expectancy in the air; he knows there is much curiosity that demands satisfaction. Why else would people come out to question who he is? There is an opportunity here to take advantage. But he does not. He will not be pushed around by other people’s dreams and wishes, even if it is connected with a deep rooted hope and dream: the Messiah.
John knows his place. He knows who sent him. He is a man sent by God. His place is to give testimony: he does not seek to take anyone else’s place. He knows his relationship to the Messiah who is coming. He will not usurp that position. When Jesus does finally appear, he is most willing to get out of the way. He must increase, I must decrease, he says.
There is something wonderfully free about John the man of God; and something wonderfully strong. He comes across to us as a man who is sure of himself and his place. There is no self-seeking; no looking for another position other than the one allotted him by God who sent him. There is no such thing as wishing he were the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet. John is free to stand in his own place. He is free to give testimony about Christ. It is the sure knowledge of who he is and his role that makes him strong. In that strength he does not let others force their hopes and expectations upon him. As one who testifies, he invites his questioners to put their hopes in the one coming after him.
There is a challenge for us in John the Baptist as one who testifies, as a witness on behalf of God. The challenge is rather simple. Does our whole life, our whole being, point to the one who is coming? The season of Advent is more than just a passive waiting for the coming One. It is an active season of giving testimony, of bearing witness, of enthusiastically pointing. There needs to be something about our lives that will make others say: maybe he/she knows about the one who comes. There ought to be something about our actions, our words, our attitude that will make others say: Oh, the Kingdom of God is surely among us; look at the way he or she is living. We must be enough of a witness so that others can surely get a taste that there is something more here, that life is for a purpose, that nothing is just an accident. And yet, we must have enough sense and humility to know that we are not IT. What we do and say is not yet the Kingdom. We must be attractive enough so that others take notice, but transparent enough so that others can see through us to the one is coming and what truly belongs to the Kingdom. We must be able to give testimony and not stand in the way of God’s work and love. Advent is being clear about your identity, your relationship to God, to the Messiah, the Spirit-filled Christ.
If we need a clarification of what we are to testify to, then we can find it in the description of the Spirit-filled Messiah in Isaiah. We are bearing witness to the Kingdom where there is good news for the disadvantaged and healing for broken hearts. Where freedom is being affected in the face of any kind of slavery, human trafficking or addiction. We are to testify that a jubilee year of forgiveness and restoration of human dignity is going on. In economic terms, this would mean a cancelation of debts and the ability to start over with a clean slate. A big wish, but very much within the realm of God’s Kingdom.
John, the man of God, turned witness and giver of testimony stands as a reminder to us that real light is coming and it will dawn on the darkness of our situation whether it is personal, national, global or relates to our Church. John gave testimony that he was not the light but that there was real light coming. We are challenged to testify that real wisdom will guide us in the questions of today; real healing will come to broken families and hearts; real freedom will open prisons of many kinds. All this, we can testify, will happen with the one whom God has anointed and sent.
When we Christians are as faithful in our witness to Jesus as was John the Baptist, then the situation will come out on the side of justice, love and truth. Our Advent task is modeled for us in John the Baptist. We must be a faithful witness to Jesus. In order for that to happen, we may very well have to get ourselves out of the way and let Christ’s work of healing, freeing and bringing Good News come through loud and clear. A faithful witness to Jesus knows that there is light and no darkness can overcome it.