Isaiah 61: 1 – 2a, 10 – 11.
1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 24
Gospel: John 1: 6 – 8, 19 – 28
Today’s readings are brimful of joy and hope. Israel radiates as a joyful bride coming to her bridegroom adorned for a lavish, oriental wedding. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians continue the theme of hope and joy in a community that lives by the life of Christ. And St John, in the gospel, pictures the work of John the Baptist, who came to witness to God’s light upon this earth. This is not a joyousness without responsibility. It’s a joy that is found when people find and carry out their true mission in life. Isaiah speaks of one anointed and sent to bring good news to the oppressed – words that were adopted by Jesus to describe his own life’s purpose – just as they should also be made real in the life of every Christian. Those privileged to share in Jesus’ spiritual life must also share in his concerns and desires.
“Who are you?” in the wilderness on Mount Sinai whom he met God, Moses asked, “If they ask me what is your name, what am I to tell them?” God answered by recalling the history of his love. ‘I am the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Only a love that embraced an entire people could be renewed age after despite the ups and downs of that people’s history.
The liturgy of the Word of God from Isaiah, describes Isaiah’s identity in his own words, “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim to captives and freedom to those in prison.”
St. Paul in our second reading today prays that the Thessalonians may be kept blameless in spirit, soul, and body to receive the Saviour at his coming.
In the Gospel, the Jews sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptist. “Who are you?” they asked. John the Baptist declared openly he was not the Christ. He makes it very clear that he is not Elijah or the prophet, and goes on to reveal his true identity: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness – prepare the Way of the Lord and make his paths straight.” He is fully aware f himself as a witness to and forerunner of Jesus Christ the Messiah.
Who then is a faithful witness? A faithful witness is the one who gives testimony to the truth at the expense of his life. In its Christian sense, it refers to John the Baptist, Mary Mother of Jesus, the Apostles, and the first disciples, who are the chief witnesses in the Christian community. Subsequently, however, all who are called to bear witness to the hope which Jesus imparts to the Christians and to the world. In this sense the shape of the Christians daily life is a living witness to the hope and faith in Jesus Christ. All Christians are therefore called to bear witness to Jesus by their words, deeds, and exemplary Christian life so that we may defend and foster Christian faith.
Two key ideas in today’s readings go well together:
- The spiritual joy that marks the Christian faith, that we are waiting for the coming of the Lord, and our entry into a life of eternal communion with God. The other is the willingness to bear our share of the Christian work-load, to do our bit, in our time, to realize the goals of Jesus in our world. I’d like to hear a homily focused on one of these, without totally forgetting the other. In these times of economic austerity and budget cuts that are endlessly debated, is no harm to be reminded of the blessings in our lives, our reasons to be joyful. Mention, for example, the love we enjoy with our family and friends, the pleasure of meeting new people, of awakening some dormant talent by taking a course of adult education; the solidarity we feel in our local community when people willingly help their neighbors in their needs; the consolation to be found in prayer. Many examples can be named, to illustrate God’s blessing in our lives: reasons to be joyful. Like the northern Irish writer C.S. Lewis, we too can be “surprised by joy,” and re-discover gladness and meaning in life.
- Our advent-mission to help the needy, if we are to carry on “the project of Jesus” – the commitment he always showed to people on the margins. Practical examples of his “good news for the poor” can be pointed out, according to the life-situation of the worshippers. Our homilist must try to persuade those whose lives are peaceful and prosperous not to be afraid to let the pain of the needy come through to them and touch them. The sort of carefree joy that lets us shut our eyes to the seamier side of life, and “pass by on the other side,” is not the authentic joy announced in today’s reading. Care for our neglected neighbors may stand in a certain tension with our personal sense of joy, but the two can and should be blended into the lifestyle of anybody who wants to build their life on Jesus.
Once upon a time there was a king. He had a son. One day his enemy invaded his kingdom and killed him. His servants hid the young prince and he was bought up with their children. One day he was digging potatoes. An elderly lady appeared to him and asked: “Do you know who you are?” “Yes,” replied the boy, “I am the son of the potato farmer.” “No, “said the woman. “You are the Son of the King,” and she disappeared into the woods. The boy began to think, his face gleamed, eyes glittered, and he was filled with a sense of self-dignity. Similarly we need someone to tell us who we are. Who are we? We are beloved daughters and sons of God. That is our Christian identity. Let the Eucharist we celebrate today strengthen us to live, act, and behave as the beloved children of the Heavenly Father.