3 Sunday of Advent, Year B
Is 61:1-2, 10-11; 1Thes 5:16-21; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
At the time of Jesus on earth, Palestine was under the Roman rule. Internally, there were problems of divisions, immorality and corruption in the country. Therefore, people longed for the messiah to come more than ever. According to people's view, the messiah would come to liberate them from the foreign dominion, making their country rich, strong and number one.
Therefore, the message of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the coming of the messiah stirred up some hope among the Hebrews. That was so because through many centuries, they had been under the foreign powers: the Persians, the Egyptians, the Syrians, and the Romans. This brought into existence a religious community, called the Essenes, who withdrew to the desert of Qumran on the shore of the Dead Sea.
They took their oaths to hold property in common and live a life of prayer, meditation and study of scripture. John the Baptist is thought to be a member of this Qumran community when he appeared in the desert of Judea near Qumran. So according to the people's popular opinion about a messiah, John the Baptist could claim to be their messiah, especially his message was powerful and appealing. However, when people asked whom he was, John answered he was not the Christ (Jn 1:20), he was not Elijah (Jn 1:21), he was not any of the prophets (Jn 1:21). He simply said: I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord (Jn 1:23). The priests, who were sent to ask John, must have known that John was no ordinary person since his father Zechariah was a priest himself, who saw an angel saying that his wife would bear a son miraculously.
Not satisfied with his answer, some of the Pharisees continued to ask why he baptized. John the Baptist explained: I baptize with water, but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap, I am not worthy to untie (Jn 1:26-27). Why did the people ask if John the Baptist would be Elijah? The answer is according to the prophet Maliki, Elijah would return before the messiah would come (Ml 3:23). Some contemporaries of Jesus such as the scribes also believed so (Mt 17:10; Mk 9:11). They thought John the Baptist were Elijah since John dressed like Elijah: Clothed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist (Mk 1:6; 2Kgs 1:8). His message of preaching was as fiery as Elijah’s was.
When Jesus said John was Elijah (Mt 11:14; 17:12-13; Mk 9:13), he meant John came in the spirit of Elijah. That was exactly what the angel of the Lord said to Zechariah about his future son: He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk 1:17). Why did they ask if John was the prophet? About what kind of prophet were they talking? The answer is the book of Deuteronomy mentions a prophet will come among the Israelites (Dt 18:15). That is why they expected that prophet to come to take part in the messianic kingdom.
According to Saint John the apostle, John the Baptist was sent to testify to the light (Jn 1:7, 8). That is the light of salvation, the light of life and the light of truth. That is the light of deliverance to the people exiled in Babylon, announced by Isaiah over five hundred years before Christ. Whether Isaiah saw clearly the true meaning of the deliverance is not important. What is important is when opening the book of Isaiah to read (Is 60:1-2) Jesus confirmed that he had come to fulfill this prophecy about the messiah. Suppose John had claimed what he was not, he would have lost favor with God.
According to scripture passages about him, John maintained his identity, his standing, and his position before God. He maintained Christ must increase, and he must decrease (Jn 3:30). That means Christ must be glorified, and he must be in the shadow. His statement was indicative of his humility.
The lesson we can learn from John the Baptist during this Advent is to accept the truth about ourselves, to accept what we have, to accept our standing, our present situation and our limitations, not to attribute to ourselves what we do not have and what we do not do.
Today the Church uses scripture readings containing words of encouragement, telling us to rejoice, for the day of redemption is near. John the Baptist teaches us how to create the joy of acceptance as to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
As Christians, we should learn from John the Baptist to know ourselves, to accept our situations and ourselves. If not, we might become dissatisfied. That attitude of dissatisfaction would be an obstacle to the coming of the Lord into our lives. Only when we accept ourselves and our situations, our standing and positions and limitations, we will experience joy as to open our hearts in preparation for the coming of the Lord.
A prayer for being satisfied with one’s position:
Oh, Lord you are Creator of all things and living beings.
Grant that I may realize
I am only clay, you are the potter.
What do you want me to be
is in your creating hands.
Like John the Baptist,
may I be true to myself, not pretending
so that I may experience joy,
waiting for your coming. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong