Dec 10, 2011

3rd Advent Sunday: John bears witness

"A man named John was sent from God . . . to testify to the light . . ."
3rd Sunday of Advent, the Word:

Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11
Thess 5: 16-24
Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28
Legal thrillers have become very popular since the days they all began with Perry Mason. One of the most popular authors, John Grisham, has made a fortune rooting for the underdog and defending them in the most surprising cases. 
But, no matter who may be on trial, they can only be helped, or hurt, by the credibility of their witnesses.  Innocence or guilt may be determined more as the testimony of witnesses and the facts of the case line up.

As we journey in this mid-Advent time, John the Baptist once again looms upon the scene.  Last Sunday, the Baptist was heard as the proclamation of a new age in Mk 1 1-8: “One mightier than I is coming after me . . .” So, get ready and prepare yourselves. A new age, a person will come who will challenge the status quo and initiate a new age of the Spirit: “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This Sunday, John is questioned about his mission and about his authority by the religious establishment of his time. In one sense, John is put on trial to present his credentials and test his credibility. The priests and Levites from Jerusalem seek answers.  “Who are you?” they wonder. John makes it clear that his ministry is not about him but about another to come very soon.  He is, “not the light, but came to testify to the light . . .” (Jn 1:8).

There seems to be in the Baptist's testimony a clear indication of what John often does in his Gospel and it would do us well to make the same comparison: darkness represents ignorance and resistance while light represents knowledge and truth.  The One who is “God from God and Light from Light” has come and the only way to see him for who he is to walk in the light; to remove darkness from our minds and to come out into the light of day – the call to repentance and a turning from our dark patterns of behavior. This is probably a good time to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation no matter how long its been. Walk into the light this season and clear away the darkness. So John this weekend is the archetypal witness to the true light – Christ Jesus.

As a witness stands before he/she is about to give testimony, they take an oath which binds one to the truth:  “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”  Sadly, I’m not sure that, “So help you God” is still added to this oath in a court of law. To swear such a promise upon one’s faith in God is all the more binding. Still, truth is the prevailing assumption.

John’s attraction to the massive crowds was apparently a sense that he was the most authentic witness possible.  That what he said, he meant. When we hear his testimony, we can be assured that it is true. John the Evangelist presents the Baptist as God’s own witness for he “was sent from God” as the passage opens this Sunday. People came to believe in this testimony and thereby came to believe in the Light (Christ Jesus) himself. So, this is very much a testimony to faith.
The reading from Isaiah presents a vision of one who is “anointed” and “sent” to “heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives,” to “release the prisoners” and “announce a year of favor from the Lord.” In this grand divine plan of recreation of human relationships, God will “bring forth” new life and new hope to a darkened world desperately in need of light and vision.

This person could easily be the Baptist himself and then the baton, as it were, passed on in its fullness to the Messiah, Jesus himself. It is definitive that John the Baptist’s testimony was the road map to find the light.  In this court of law before the priests, Levites, and the world, we can be sure that when the Baptist took the stand, the One he was defending was “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  And God certainly did help and guide him to that end.
The closer Christmas comes for all of us, the crazier life may seem to be.  Last minute shopping, Christmas cards and decorations, parties to attend, Christmas concerts to enjoy, menus to plan for the holiday meals, people to include for gifts and invitations, and whatever other ways we feel we need to fill the hours of these next two weeks.

Despite the politically correct pressure of our time to rename this season nothing more than “happy holidays” we can bear witness to the same truth that John the Baptist still does today.  We might ask, is there something among all the decorations, the cards or my conversation this time of year which would bring doubts to others that my Christian faith is lacking?  Where is Christ and his light present in our homes or conversation as we go about our busy days? 
The other day I had gone to purchase a new bulb for the headlight on my 7 year old car.  I was about to increase the light so I could drive more safely at night. After I paid the cashier, she gave me the package and said, “Happy Holidays.”  I looked at her and said, “Merry Christmas!”  I could tell she was thankfully relived and returned a hearty, “Merry Christmas” with a smile on her face. 

Maybe in that simple way we both bore witness to the true spirit of this season.
O, God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spriit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect: 3rd Sunday of Advent)