We Are Witness to the Light: Advent 3

We Are Witness to the Light: Advent 3

The Third Sunday of Advent: December 13, 2020

Year B: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

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Most of us know that the season and the mood of Advent is one of great expectation, great waiting. There are three purple candles and a pink candle, and then of course, the white candle in the center, which is the Christ Candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve for the Feast of the Nativity. The three purple candles are considered as symbols of peace, and hope, and love. The pink candle is for the third Sunday of Advent, which is today and is sometimes referred to as Gaudete Sunday. This Sunday in Advent takes on a slightly different tone because we’re almost there, we’re halfway through, we’re coming upon the fullness of Christmas. But to get to Christmas we have to go through Advent.

Gaudete means rejoice. So, “rejoice always pray” is a perfect segue. It’s a subtle shift in this Sunday, knowing that the fullness of Christmas is to come in just under two weeks. That is said to be the reason for the more festive pink candle, the more festive vestments of this Sunday, and the pink roses on the altar.

So, here we are on a day that means to rejoice, we’re in this hopeful, expectant season of Advent and it’s a challenging time. It’s a challenging time when our expectations for our lives have been shattered.

But listen to the words of Isaiah:

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.[1]

Listen to the words of Mary of Nazareth:

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.[2]

Listen to John the Baptizer:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. . .”[3]

Listen and try to remember.

Do you know how many are people are oppressed? Have you met with people who are brokenhearted? I suggest that everyone who is joining us today is brokenhearted. We’re brokenhearted at what has been lost in the last months, the last year. Think about others who are oppressed, who are brokenhearted. Have you ever been a captive to yourself, to others, literally or figuratively?

Have you visited a prisoner?

Now, change direction and remember the mighty on their thrones. Identify them; call out their names as you pray to God, as Mary did, to cast them down. For they are the ones who cause oppression, who take away liberty and make prisoners of the innocent. Lift up the lowly, oh Lord, we cry with Mary. Fill the hungry with good things. Send the rich away empty, for they are the ones who have emptied everything the poor ever had.

Is any of us, I wonder, courageous enough to cry out with Mary?

Yet, this is what the prophets have seen and have proclaimed throughout the centuries. And the people laugh at them while the prophetic voices echo, like that of John’s, in the wilderness.

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.”[4] This was a real man; he had a mother and a father—Zechariah and Elizabeth. Yet, he was sent from God.

He was a prophet. “Who are you?” the people asked, taunting him. Who gave you the right to call us to repentance, to baptize your followers, to remind us of our sins? Who are you?

“I am a voice crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”[5] Wonderful words we heard this morning in our opening hymn. The people are familiar with the words of the great prophets of their tradition. But what they don’t know is what he tells them next – “ I come as a witness to the light,”[6] he announces, and then he personifies the light— “so that all might believe through him.”[7] He is talking about light not as a phenomenon or an effect, but as a person. We know who that person is: Jesus Christ.

“I myself am not this light,”[8] John the humble, the profound, tells them, “but I have come to give witness to this light.” And John’s courageous, prophetic voice continues with the surprising statement: “I baptize with water, but 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.”[9]

Untying the thongs of sandals was a slave’s job. A slave would have to bend down to untie the sandals of feet that had walked on dusty and dirty unpaved roads. Yet John, wildly popular at that time, claiming crowds of followers, has the humility to say that he is lower than a slave compared to the one he is about to introduce to them as the Light. As the light of salvation. John is showing us truth, humility, and self-awareness: these are marks of the prophet. There are marks made visible in the life of Jesus who was to come.

A modern-day prophet, Father John Dear, has identified six marks of the prophet in his book on the Beatitudes. “The prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. . . . a prophet becomes a voice for the voiceless. Indeed, a prophet is the voice of a voiceless God.”[10] At a time when so many people are despised and neglected, at a time when the very rich rule our world, we need to listen to the prophets who consistently remind us to pay attention. Advent is always the right time for paying attention. Remember the oppressed, the voiceless, the widows, the orphans, the poor, we are reminded by the prophets.

Another mark of the prophets is that they are always concerned with justice and peace. And that’s what we in the church should always be concerned by.

Justice and peace are at the heart of God, we are reminded. Not in some future afterlife, but here, on this earth, “as it is in heaven.” If we don’t have both we can have neither.

Fearlessness and courage are the most evident marks of the prophet. We see those in John; we hear them in his cry, and we know that they brought him to the attention of one of those who will sit on their thrones. John’s courage led to his gruesome death.

But Jesus comes along and takes the words of Isaiah, he takes the words of John and makes them his own. Jesus was filled with the spirit of God; he is the Lord’s anointed, the Christ. He too proclaimed good news to the poor as he bound the brokenhearted. He was the Light, that John tells us about, and the Light cannot be put out; it flickers, but it is not extinguished.

John the Baptizer was a witness to this light. We too are asked to be witnesses to the Light. And to bring and to heal brokenhearted and bind up the wounded.

We have the courage to proclaim the good news in a culture filled with the idols of wealth, weapons, and war unless we are filled and guided by God’s light.

Never despise the words of the prophets, St. Paul reminds us. This Advent, as always, may we be filled with the prophets’ passion for justice and peace and with their courage and fearlessness as we too seek to witness to the Light. A

[1] Isaiah 61:1

[2] Luke 1:52-53

[3] John 1:23

[4] John 1:6

[5] John 1:23

[6] Cf. John 1:7

[7] Ibid.

[8] Cf. John 1:20

[9] John 1:26-27

[10] John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (Twenty-Third Publications: 2016), 116-117.


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