13Dec 3rd Sunday in Advent

1st Reading: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11

Our spirit is guided by God’s Spirit

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

The fervour of the early Christians

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28

John’s testimony to Jesus

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “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 out 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, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

BIBLE

Joyful service

Today’s readings shine out with 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.

Two key ideas can be noted:

1. 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 realise the goals of Jesus in our world. I’d like to hear a homily focussed 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 neighbours 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.

2. 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 neighbours 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.


Finding our personal truth

Children are great with questions. As any parent knows they can ask the most profound questions in the simplest of ways. We all ask questions because, at heart, we have an instinct for seeking and searching after truth. This is a life-long search. We can never get to the point in this life where we can say, ‘I now have the total truth.’ The gospel declares that God is truth — and God is always beyond us. We can never fully grasp God with our minds or our hearts. Yet we have to be faithful to the search for truth, even if along the way we find ourselves making painful discoveries that involve letting go of long-held and cherished convictions. We keep trying to come closer to the truth, the truth about our world, about each other, about ourselves as individuals, and about God. We keep questioning in the hope that our questioning will bring us closer to the truth.

In our search for our own personal truth, two of the big questions that drives us are, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I doing what I am doing?’ We seek after our identity, in the broadest sense of that term, and we try to clarify for ourselves the ultimate purpose that drives all we do and say. In today’s gospel, those two big questions are put to John the Baptist by the religious authorities, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Why are you baptizing?’ In answer to the first question, John began by declaring who he was not. He was clear that he was not the Christ, the Messiah. John did not try to be more than he was. Later on in the gospel of John, using an image drawn from a wedding celebration, he would say of himself that he was not the bridegroom, only the friend of the bridegroom who rejoices at the bridegroom’s voice. In this morning’s gospel John declares himself to be the voice crying in the wilderness; he is not the Word, only the voice; he is not the light, only the witness to the light. When John was asked why he was doing what he was doing, why he was baptizing, he declared that he baptized to make known the ‘one who stands among you, unknown to you.’ He did what he was doing to open people’s eyes to the person standing among them, to the Messiah who was in their midst without their realizing it. There was a great light shining among them that many were unaware of, and John had come to bear witness to that light. John did what he did because of who he was. The answer to the question, ‘Why are you baptizing?’ flowed from the answer to the more fundamental question, ‘Who are you?’ “What do you say about yourself?”

“What do you say about yourself?”, is a question we can answer at different levels. We can simply give our name, or give or parents’ names; we can answer it by giving our professional qualifications, or by naming the role or the position we have in life. Yet, the deepest level, the most fundamental level, at which we can answer that question is the spiritual level. Who am I at that deepest, most spiritual, level of my being? Who am I before God? Who is God calling me to be? Here, John the Baptist, the great Advent saint, can be of help to us. He articulates for us who each one of us is in virtue of our baptism, who God is calling us to be. No more than John the Baptist, we are certainly not the Messiah. We are not the light. We know only too well the areas of darkness in our lives and in our hearts. However, like John the Baptist, we are a witness to the Light. Even though we are all far from perfect, we are, nonetheless, called to be a witness to Christ.

John the Baptist says:'”there stands among you, unknown to you, the one who is coming after me.” Jesus Christ stands among us, but he remains unknown to many. Perhaps we could do more to make him known, to let his light shine in our world through our example. The Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness, a voice to invite people into relationship with God. We too are asked to use our voice to make Christ known. We can use our gift of communication to spread faith in Christ and illustrate his values and his attitudes. In our behaviour too, we can let the Lord communicate through us. If we realise our calling to be witnesses to the light, it can shape how we live and explains why we live the way we do. The answer to the question, ‘Who are you?’ grounds the answer to the question, ‘Why do you do what you are doing?’ Advent is a good time to reclaim our fundamental identity, our Christ-linked identity. If Jesus is to be born anywhere today, it will be in the hearts of his followers.


2 Responses

  1. Lorcán Kenny

    One chair remains uncovered in my western facing decking.
    One chair.
    I do not know why I feel reluctant to cover it…
    …what am I hoping for…
    …the weather will remain inclement…
    …friends remain cordoned off , from coffee in evenings light.
    Restrictions, levels, numbers….
    …Thoughts, emotions, connections….covered up…waiting for better news!
    Of vaccines, of falling numbers, a word of hope.
    I’m waiting like the Baptist, not imprisoned, but not impressed,
    by the relentless Covid gloom.
    Will we have Christmas together…
    Will we hug in springtime…
    Will hope return….
    And the robin lands at my bird feeder.
    A defiant splash of red on a grey-feeling day.
    He uncovers my curiosity, I’ll look at him and I nearly swear he winks…
    My Grandad’s words flood the decking of my mind.
    “To get a smile from fortune, you must wink at trouble…”
    I shall leave this seat uncovered,
    I shall feed those who need to be fed,
    Including a defiant robin,
    Who defies both fear and dread.
    For hope is an uncovered chair,
    A message from and to a Baptist, to hope and not despair.

  2. Thara+Benedicta

    Key message:
    “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?” (Questions that were asked of John the Baptist.)
    We are witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Homily:
    Takeaway from first reading:
    The first reading Isaiah 61:1,2, was read by Jesus in the synagogue on the sabbath, His first public appearance
    Luke 4:18-21:
    “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me;
    he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn…
    After reading this Jesus, said, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
    Jesus answered the “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?” queries for Himself. He has signed up to work on all these tasks mentioned above. He is going to comfort all who are mourning, bind up broken hearts, release the prisoners and so on…
    When Jesus is working for us, why still worry?

    Takeaway from second reading:
    The second reading says,
    “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
    It gives the ways to witness for our Lord Jesus.
    1. Rejoice always
    2. Pray without ceasing
    3. Giving thanks in all circumstances
    Will talk more on this in the tips section.

    Takeaway from Gospel reading:
    John the Baptist was asked a very great question : “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?”
    John the Baptist, having a clear understanding of his call, answered “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord.” This was during the first coming of the Lord. As we are in the waiting period for His second coming let us ponder on what Jesus says who we are.
    Acts 1:8 says:
    “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (The last statement uttered by our loving Lord Jesus before being taken up to Heaven.)
    Our Lord Jesus answers this question “Who are we?” for us – “We are the witnesses of our Lord Jesus.”
    John the Baptist testified that Jesus was the Messiah, Son of the living Almighty God. The same work is what our Lord Jesus has assigned us to do – we need to testify that Jesus is the living God by our personal life. Others may not open a Bible and read about Jesus or listen to Audio or Video channels to get to know about Jesus but certainly our holy living will lead them to Jesus.

    Tips to witness Jesus in our personal life:
    1. Being peaceful during trials is one of the greatest testimonies for Jesus. Because without Jesus we cannot do it. Only if we learn to trust in Jesus – learning here means if we have had earlier experiences that Jesus will always make us go through storms and come out successfully, then our levels of trust will be sufficient to hold our peace in the storm.
    2. Pray all through the day. There is no need to wait for a specific time or go to a certain place to pray. All through our work or our rest we can simple talk with God. We have a friend who is always caring for us, who will be with us in all circumstances, who knows what is the right thing and tells us what we need to do, who will protect us, who will not talk bad about us and so on and on. We can enjoy being with Him. Please talk with Him and develop a close friendship with Him.
    3. Praise God and your problems will cease. I have experienced this many times in my personal life. It would be so surprising in the end, that I would have not taken any steps to solve the problem (I did not know what to do!), I was praising God, and the problem got solved. I used to wonder, while I did not take any action to solve the problem, still the problem got solved. Then I realised that while I was praising, God simply fixed it!!
    4. Jesus forgave all those who crucified Him. Similarly if we forgive and do good to those who hurt us, then we will be a great witness to the Lord. If one of our friend makes fun of us in a small gathering with an intent of making us feel embarrassed, then if we appreciate our same friend with a few words in the same gathering, we will be a good witness there. Because people will only expect us to hold a grudge and repay like with like. But when we appreciate, we would have shown the same crowd what Jesus would have done in the same situation.
    5. Achieving our breakthroughs through service to others. When we serve others there will be abundance of blessings poured out on us. Favours will be seen from unseen channels. People will be curious to understand how the special channels are opening up.
    6. The first reading clearly explains about our Lord Jesus. It says God anointed Lord Jesus with the Holy Spirit to proclaim liberty/freedom to the captives. We are captives to our past, if we keep reminding ourselves about our painful past. Jesus is providing us a new future. When we turn back to Him, He sees us as a small sapling (irrespective of our age, whether we are 20, 40, or 80 years) and nourishes us. So avoid recalling the past and have a joyful expectation of the bright future God has planned for your according to Jeremiah 29:11 NIV – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
    7. In the Old Testament days people required a prophet to commune with God. But now God is there, in each one of our hearts. Let’s be thankful that the Almighty God is residing inside us. If someone who is three levels above us in the hierarchy in our office, just comes to visit us, we feel so excited. Think about this (especially in your daily morning prayer) – Almighty God who created the sun, moon, stars and the entire universe is living within us. How much blessed we are and how happy we should be!

    If we live as witness for Jesus, then Jesus will be our witness!


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