3rd Sunday of Advent [B]
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
If you go out into the Internet and search for thoughts from notable people about Christmas you will find lots of uplifting and heartwarming thoughts about the holidays, thoughts from people of faith as well as thoughts from people of no particular faith at all rejoicing over the coming of Christmas.
Here are but just a few of them:
Said one: “Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.”
Said another: “I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people less fortunate than ourselves whom we should regard as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
A third said: “Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
One of our more famous American authors said: “This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.”
Our Church reminds us 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 personal enterprise of life. The birth of Jesus Christ empowers us to move beyond what has been, and to move into God’s kingdom here on earth. We are, after all is said and done, called by God not only to enter heaven after we die, but to usher in His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. To say it quite simply, we are to be concerned about what is happening now, not just what we hope will happen in the future.
For us, as Christians, we see that a little Child lifts us up to heaven… and heaven, in the birth of that Christ, stoops to earth. The message of Christmas is that the visible material world is now, by the birth of God’s Son among us, bound to the invisible spiritual world. What humans regard as merely material is now invested with the presence of God. It is God’s world, not just ours.
My mother once told me: “Happiness is something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” If you and I can live lives dedicated to making the lives of others a little bit better than they once were, if we can find ourselves in the reality of what is transcendent in life, giving love to the loveless, and being loved in return, and if we can live each day fully in the Presence of Christ, or rather with His Presence reaching and touching others through us, that is no small thing to have happened to any man or woman.
Here are some personal qualities that should identify who we are and what we are as Catholics who celebrate the Birth of Christ and who receive Him in Holy Communion:
1 – We are known for attending Mass and receiving Jesus Christ into our souls every Sunday, and perhaps even known to celebrate daily Masses from time to time.
2 – We are 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 in 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.
3 – We are known to be prayerful persons. I don’t mean that we ostentatiously pray in public so that we will be seen, but rather that being 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 a deeply prayerful person.
4 – We have an attitude, a habit of being, that is kind, gentle, respectful, sensitive to others, compassionate and caring toward others. We have an attitude that can been seen in the eyes of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, a face that reveals the presence of the heart of Christ, a smile and a tone of voice that can only come from being close to Christ.
5 – We are known as persons who are sensitive to the presence of God in all things, in events, and in the seeming coincidences that occur in our lives and in our worlds, coincidences that point to the activities of God in our lives and in our world.
Today’s readings from Sacred Scripture have several significant themes within them. One of them has to do with identity, John the Baptist’s identity, Christ’s identity, as well as your identity and mine. John the Baptist had a firm grasp of who he was not, as well as an inspired grasp of 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 great Old Testament 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 is sent to redeem us. This was Jesus’ inaugural address, the one He delivered in the Synagogue of Capernaum when He made His first public appearance after having spent forty days and forty nights in the desert wrestling with Satan over His true identity.
Evidently Jesus didn’t have much of an identity problem. Nor should we. After all, 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 than the world sees us. Because of Jesus Christ we now know that we are loved and being saved sinners. Because God the Son was born into our humanity 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.
To whom, then, is your life dedicated? To what is your life dedicated? What part do you play in the great scheme of things? Would the people who know you succeed or would they fail in identifying who you are, what you stand for, and what your life is all about?
Perhaps in all of your gift-giving this forthcoming Christmas you could give the Christ child a gift He would treasure forever, namely a healthy self-awareness and a healthy self-identity, one in which the presence of Jesus can be found.