3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
Are You the Messiah? John is the Messiah’s “advance man.” Get ready! The Messiah’s coming!
Jim Bishop wrote a book called The Day Christ Died. Bishop’s book contains a beautiful passage describing how Jews felt about the coming of the Messiah. The passage goes something like this:
“The coming of the Messiah was a sweet national obsession. It was joy beyond imagining, happiness beyond belief. It was comfort for the weary farmer’s bones as he lay in bed at night with his family, waiting for sleep.
“It was the dream of every gray-haired person. It was the thing a small child looked to a mountain of white clouds to see. It was the hope of Judea in chains. The Messiah was always the promise of tomorrow morning.” And so when John the Baptizer showed up at the Jordan river, people got excited.
The place where John began his mission was a shallow spot, not far from the Dead Sea. It was a popular crossing for caravans and travelers from all over the world. It was a perfect place for people to meet and to exchange world news.
And so it was an ideal place for John to begin his preaching and baptizing. John’s message was simple and to the point: “Turn away from your sins. . . . ‘Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him.’ ” Luke 3:3–4
Before long, news of John’s activity reached the religious authorities in Jerusalem.
So they sent a delegation of priests and Levites to talk to John.
The priests had a special interest in John because he was the son of a priest, Zechariah.
In Judaism, the only requirement for priesthood was heredity. It a man was descended from Aaron, no one could stop him from functioning as a priest.
The priests in Jerusalem, therefore, were especially concerned about John, and why he was behaving so strangely.
When the delegation of priests arrived, they got right down to business and asked John, “Who are you?”
John knew what was on their minds, so he said, “I am not the Messiah.”
“If you’re not the Messiah,” the priests said, “who are you? Are you Elijah?”
This seems like a strange question to us. But we must remember that Elijah is the prophet who, at the end of his life, was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. Many Jews believed Elijah would reappear when it was time for the Messiah to come. Even today some Jews place an empty chair for Elijah at the Passover table. They pray that this will be the year when Elijah will appear to announce the coming of the Messiah.
But John said flatly that he was not the same person who was taken to heaven centuries before in a fiery chariot.
“Are you a prophet, then? they asked.
Again John answered, “No! I am not a prophet in the sense that Jeremiah and Ezekiel were prophets.”
“Who are you, then?” they asked.
John replied by quoting the prophet Isaiah:
“I am ‘the voice of someone shouting in the desert: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!’ ”
To appreciate John’s words about making “a straight path for the Lord,” we must remember that few ancient roads were paved with gravel or stone. Most ancient roads were simply mud paths.
When a king planned a visit to a certain town of his kingdom, he sent an “advance man” ahead of him to have the people fill up mud holes and straighten out the path. Another thing the “advance man” did was to instruct the people in the proper protocol for receiving the king.
Concerning the protocol for receiving the Lord, John says, “Turn away from your sins and be baptized.” Mark 1:4
And so my rephrase John’s complete message this way: “I am not the Messiah. But I am the Messiah’s ‘advance man.’ Get ready! For he is coming!”
John does what every true religious leader ought to do. He turns attention away from himself and focuses it on Jesus.
That’s what the Church does during Advent. It focuses our attention on Jesus. it acts as his “advance man” and tells us he is coming. Finally, it explains to us how to prepare for his coming.
The “coming” of Jesus that the season of Advent talks about is not only his coming in history, which we celebrate at Christmas, but also his final coming at the end of history.
Matthew says of his final coming: “When the Son of Man comes as King . . . he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him.
Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. . . .
“The King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! come and possess the kingdom. . . .’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away . . . to the eternal fire.’ ” Matthew 25:31–34, 41 And so the message of today’s readings is this: John is not the Messiah. He is the Messiah’s “advance man.”
John tells us how to prepare for the coming of Jesus. And the coming we prepare for is not just his coming into history as our savior, but also his coming at the end of history as our judge.
Let’s close with one of the recommended acts of contrition from the rite of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Please pray along with me in silence:
“Father of mercy, like the prodigal son, I return to you and say: ‘I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised Paradise: ‘Lord, remember me in your kingdom.’
“Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust: purify my heart, and help me walk as a child of light.”
Series II 3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
One Tooth As John proclaimed the presence of Christ in his world, so we must proclaim it in our world.
An old man lived in New Guinea. He made his living by cutting firewood for the mission hospital. Everybody called him One Tooth, because his upper jaw contained just one tooth.
Besides cutting wood, the old man also spent a part of each day reading the Gospel to outpatients sitting in the hospital’s waiting room. Day after day, he shared his faith in Jesus with these suffering people.
Then one day something happened. One Tooth began to have trouble reading. At first he thought it was something that would get better, but it didn’t.
So One Tooth went to see the hospital doctor. After examining the old woodcutter, the doctor put his arm around the old man and said, “I have something difficult to tell you. You’re going blind, and there’s nothing we can do.’’
“Oh no!’’ said One Tooth. “I’m already old. Now I’ll be blind and useless, too.’’
The next day One Tooth didn’t show up at the hospital. Nor did he show up the day after that. One Tooth had vanished.
Later the doctor learned that One Tooth was living alone in a deserted part of the island. A boy who brought the old man food told the doctor where he was.
So the doctor went to see One Tooth. “What are you doing here?’’ the doctor asked.
One Tooth replied, “Ever since you told me I was going blind, I’ve been reading and memorizing the most important parts of the Gospel. I’ve already memorized Jesus’ birth, several of his miracles and parables, and his death and resurrection.
“I’ve been repeating these over and over to the boy, to make sure I’ve got them right. In about a week I’ll be back at the hospital again, Doctor, telling the outpatients about Jesus.’’
That story fits in beautifully with today’s readings.
It fits in with today’s first reading, where Isaiah the prophet says:
“The Sovereign LORD has filled me with his Spirit. He has chosen me and sent me To bring good news to the poor, . . . ” Isaiah 61:1
That same spirit of the Lord God came upon One Tooth after he was baptized and confirmed. And he felt the same call to bring the glad tidings of Jesus to the lowly.
The story also fits in with today’s second reading, where Paul tells us: “Do not restrain the Holy Spirit . . . ” 1 Thessalonians 5:19
One Tooth did not stifle the spirit. Even in the face of blindness, he did everything possible to let the Spirit speak through him to his brothers and sisters.
Finally, the story fits in with today’s gospel, which recalls for us the preaching of John the Baptist. John went into the desert in his youth to ponder God’s Word. He then came forth from the desert to preach God’s Word to the people, saying,
“I am ‘the voice of someone shouting in the desert: Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!’ ” John 1:23
One Tooth also went into the desert to memorize and to ponder God’s Word. He, too, came forth from the desert, to share God’s Word with others.
The story of John the Baptist and the story of One Tooth are Advent stories.
They’re stories of individuals who found Christ by pondering God’s Word. They’re stories of individuals who shared their discovery with others so that they, too, could find Christ.
This brings us to ourselves in this church. What John the Baptist and One Tooth did, we must do.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon us, too. We, too, have been anointed to bring the glad tidings of Jesus to the lowl
Through baptism and confirmation, we received the same calling they did. We, too, must come out of our own desert and proclaim God’s Word to others.
Concretely, how do we do this?
Right off, I can think of three ways that are so concrete, commonplace, and obvious that we tend to overlook them. They are so commonplace and so obvious that I hesitate to even mention them, but I will.
First of all, we can proclaim Christ in our own homes, to our own families. One way we can do this is by our Advent prayers around the dinner table or, after dinner, around an Advent wreath.
Second, we can proclaim Christ to our relatives and friends. Again, one simple way we can do this is by the Christmas greetings we send them.
I’ve always been somewhat amazed at Christmas greetings I receive from Catholics.
They’re filled with “Season’s Greetings’’ and Santas, but have not even a hint of whose birthday Christmas celebrates.
Finally, we can proclaim Christ to friends, relatives, and neighbors who have become inactive in their faith. Again, a simple way to do this is to invite them to go with us to Mass during Advent or on Christmas Day.
In his widely quoted book entitled Converts, Dropouts, and Returnees, Dr. Dean Hoge, a religious sociologist, says that the “happiest Catholics’’ he interviewed were “dropout Catholics’’ who had returned to the practice of their faith. And the best “recruiters of dropout Catholics’’ were once “dropouts’’ themselves.
Hoge goes on to cite statistics that every Catholic should seriously ponder. Two-thirds of the thousands of Catholics who return to the faith each year do so because a neighbor, a friend, or a relative invited them to return.
Dr. Hoge goes on to point out that in the face of those statistics, we Catholics can no longer leave the job of recruiting dropout Catholics to the clergy or to religious. We must all reach out to them. We must all become involved.
And so today’s readings are invitations for us to do what John the Baptist and One Tooth did. They are invitations to become Advent people.
They are invitations for us to find Christ in our lives, so that we, in turn, can help others find Christ in their own lives.
They are invitations to become a light in the darkness of our world, as John the Baptist and One Tooth were.
This is Christ’s own personal message to us in today’s readings. Now it is up to us to do something about it.
Series III 3rd Sunday of Advent Isaiah 61:1–2a, 10–11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
Witness Like John, we have been called to testify to the light. God sent . . . a man named John . . .to tell people about the light, so that all should hear . . . and believe. John 1:6–7
One beautiful morning, an old monk was walking along the seashore, deep in meditation.
Suddenly his eyes fell upon a huge pearl, sparkling in the sand. It was the largest pearl he had ever seen.
An old woman saw him pick it up. She ran up to him and demanded that he give her the pearl. He gave it to her cheerfully and with a smile.
The woman ran off shouting and singing at the top of her voice. She was now wealthy beyond her wildest dreams.
Aweek later, the woman sought out the old monk. She surprised him by giving the pearl back to him, saying:
“Give me that which is more valuable than the pearl.
“Give me that which enabled you to give the pearl to me cheerfully and with a smile.”
The old monk then told her about Jesus. He explained how Jesus came into the world to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
He came into the world to forgive our sins and to bring us a happiness that all the pearls in the world could never bring.
Ilike that story because it fits in so well with the spirit and message of today’s Gospel. A portion of that Gospel reads:
God sent . . . a man named John . . . to tell people about the light, so that all should hear . . . and believe. John 1:6–7
John then went on to explain who the light was. He said:
“[T]here is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.” John 1:26–27 (NAB)
And that brings us back to the story of the old monk and the pearl. The old monk is a perfect image of John the Baptist. He did for the old woman what John the Baptist did for the people of his day. He testified to the light.
And how did he testify to the light?
He did it the way Jesus told people to do it in his Sermon on the Mount, saying:
“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. . . .
“In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14, 1 In other words, the old monk testified to the light by the surprising way that he responded to the old woman’s demand to give her the pearl.
He responded to it in a way that allowed the light of Christ—which was burning in his own soul—to radiate out to all who saw him.
He responded in a way that allowed the old woman to recognize that the light radiating from him was truly Jesus, shining through him.
He responded in a way that Cardinal Newman was asking for when he prayed to God in these words:
“Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my spirit.”
It was in this way that the monk did for the old woman what John the Baptist did for the people of his time.
He testified to the light by letting it shine through him into the lives of those around him.
That brings us to each of us in this church.
By our baptism and by our confirmation we have been called by God. Saint Peter explains our calling this way in his first letter to the Christians of his time, saying:
[Y]ou are . . . God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
In other words, we have been called to testify to the light, just as John the Baptist was called to testify to it, and just as the old monk was called to testify to it.
We have been called to testify to it, first of all, by our example.
It was the monk’s example that motivated the old woman to ask him to share with her the secret that enabled him to act with such kindness and gentleness to her unreasonable demand.
That brings us back to the challenge that Advent and today’s Gospel hold out to each one of us.
Pope John Paul II expressed that challenge this way to the young people of the world, at the end of World Youth Day in the United States some years ago.
He challenged them to lead the way for the rest of the world in doing two things.
First, in undergoing a personal conversion to Jesus. Second, in developing a personal relationship with Jesus. In the spirit and words of today’s Gospel, the Holy Father was challenging the youth to become for our world what John the Baptist was for his world.
He was challenging them to testify to the light.
First of all, he was challenging them to enkindle the light of Christ within themselves.
Second, he was challenging them to let the light of Christ shine within them so that all who met them would recognize the presence of Christ within them.
And in so doing, people everywhere would soon begin requesting from them what the old woman requested from the monk: “Give me that which is more valuable than the pearl. Give me that which enabled you to give the pearl to me cheerfully.”