Fr. Charles Irvin
Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
John the Baptist did not have an identity crisis but evidently the people around him did. John knew very well who he was and what his life was all about but those around him were quite puzzled. Today’s gospel account has John the Baptist answering questions from the religious experts who are trying to find out just who he is and what he is all about. Who or what does he represent? To whom or to what is he dedicated? They, of course, fail – and so he tells them simply: “I am a voice”.
Suppose some of the people in your life were to ask what you are all about? To whom is your life dedicated? To what is your life dedicated? What part do you play in the great scheme of things?
In some parts of the world Catholics are persecuted, some quite severely, even to the point of being put to death. God forbid that should happen here in our country! But what evidence is in your life that would identify and convict you as a Catholic Christian?
There are things that hopefully should identify who we are and what we are as Catholics, things that you and I should strive to have in our lives.
We should be known for attending Mass every Sunday, and perhaps even be known to attend daily Masses from time to time. We should be known to take worship of God seriously. It’s a light that we should not hide under a bushel so that people can give honor and glory not to us but to our heavenly Father. It reveals the importance of Jesus in our lives.
We should be known to be moral persons, respected for having high standards of ethics, morality, and character. There should be plenty of evidence by which others could identify us as persons of principle and goodness because of the way we conduct our affairs, our businesses, and in the way we treat others. People should be able to take us at our word, without really needing a contract to enforce our agreements and commitments.
We should be known to be prayerful persons. I don’t mean that we ostentatiously pray in public so that we will be seen, but rather that because we are prayerful persons we have a certain aura about us – an atmosphere of serenity and peace surrounding us – a spirit of peace and calmness that people recognize as coming only from being deeply prayerful persons. People of prayer have a certain power that allows them to face pain, loss, and suffering with calmness and hope for the future, something that is especially important for everyone during this time of our national trial.
We should have an attitude and a habit of being that is kind, gentle, respectful, sensitive to others, compassionate, and caring toward others. We should have an attitude that was seen in the eyes of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, a face that revealed the presence of the heart of Christ, a smile and a tone of voice that can only come from being close to Christ.
These are just a few things among many others but they lead us to being identified as representing gifts that come to us all from God. Like John the Baptist, we can all be a voice for God’s presence in our world even though we speak no words at all. Our actions speak louder than our words. Our actions “voice” what we’re all about and what God is all about.
Advent is the time of the coming of God into our humanity, into your personal lives, and into mine too. It is that mysterious time of the year when we recognize the tension between what already is and what is yet to be; between what we are and what we can be; between what has been accomplished and what remains unfinished in our response of God’s gift of life to us.
It bears being said repeatedly that what we read in Sacred Scripture does not pertain only to events of long ago, they pertain very much to our present living. Today’s readings have several significant themes within them. One of them has to do with identity, John the Baptist’s, Christ’s, and yours and mine. John the Baptist had a firm grasp of who he was not, as well as who he was and what his life was all about.
Jesus, baptized by John and anointed by God’s Holy Spirit began his public ministry these inaugural words:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me;
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.
These words were taken from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus was quoting them because they were at the core of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Messiah who was to come, God’s Christos, God’s Anointed One sent to redeem us. This inaugural address was delivered in the Synagogue at Caparnum, the location of Jesus’ first public appearance after having spent forty days and forty nights in the desert wrestling with Satan, dealing with His identity. Evidently Jesus didn’t have much of an identity problem.
Nor should we. After all, His mission statement should be ours. He suffered and died for you and me in order that we might see and understand ourselves in an entirely new way, in a radically different way. We are loved and being saved sinners. We are endowed by our Father in heaven with certain gifts and characteristics that no power in the heavens or on earth can take from us. With Christ we are sent to redeem the world from its darkness.
Most importantly for us today is that God has gifted us with hope, a gift we should share with others. There is so much bad news surrounding us. The good news is that God offers us powerful gifts that we can use to face life’s trials and suffering, life’s losses and diminishments. We carry within us God’s powers to bring good out of evil, meaning out of absurdity, order out of chaos, and even life out of death. Sinful and imperfect as we are, God nevertheless loves us and has sent His only Son not to condemn the world, but to save it. Our identity is to be found in that enterprise, that project of God. People should recognize that is what we are all about as we face this world’s trials and tribulations with a well-founded hope that God’s ever present mercy and love can be born again in your life and in mine.