Today, John the Baptist is once again presented to us, this time by the gospel of John, as one sent by God “to testify to the light.” This light is Christ who, “stands among you whom you do not recognize.”
In these days of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christmas. But we know that Christ had already come two thousand years ago. And while we also prepare for his second coming at the end of time, we know that we may not live to see it. So, what is the point of our advent preparation?
The point is precisely what the gospel is telling us today. As John the Baptist came to testify to the light, we too are called to testify to the presence Christ, who is already among us. Is he not Emmanuel (God with us)? And did he not promise to be with us until the end of time? He is with us, he is among us; in fact, he is in us. But before we can testify to his presence, we need to recognize him first. How?
The first reading tells us that the Christ (the Anointed One) is recognizable as one who “brings glad tidings to the poor, heals the brokenhearted, proclaims liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners…” Christ is recognizable in every good done, particularly to the poor and the marginalized.
The Exorcist is a novel written by William Blatty and was made into a movie in 1973. It tells the story of a young girl who was possessed by the devil and was eventually healed of the demonic possession by a Jesuit missionary. The novel ends with a disturbing dialogue between another priest and the mother of the delivered child. “Do you now believe in God?” the priest asked.
“As far as God goes, I am a nonbeliever. Still am. But when it comes to a devil… well, that’s something else,” replied the mother.
“How is that?”
“God never talks. But the devil keeps advertising, Father. The devil does a lot of commercials.”
“But if all of the evil in the world makes you think that there might be a devil, how do you account for all the good?”
The call of Advent is for us to testify to the light – the light that shines even in the darkness of our sick and corrupt world. In spite of the viciousness, dishonesty, greed and depravity we see all around us, we testify that there is still kindness, honesty, compassion and innocence… and in great abundance. In a word, we testify that there is still love. And where there is love there is God. (cf. 1Jn 4:16)
Advent calls not only to testify to the presence of Christ in the world. More importantly, advent calls us to bring Christ’s presence in the world. He wants his face to shine in ours and his love to permeate our every word and action. He wants to make us channels of his presence so that where there is hatred we may sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope… (Prayer of St. Francis)
The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday because of its entrance antiphon which proclaims: “Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say, rejoice. The Lord is near.” The theme of joy is then carried throughout in all the readings and the responsorial psalm.
Rejoice, not only because the Lord is near. But rejoice because he is already here. What a fitting theme indeed for this Sunday for there is be no better indicator of the Lord’s presence than joy itself.
They say that when the king (or queen) of England is in residence, the Royal Standard (the flag of the ruling monarch) flies over the castle. If not, the flag is replaced by the Union Standard. This is cheerfully expressed in a popular kiddie praise song:
“Joy is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart…
When the king is in residence there.
So, let it fly in the sky, let the whole world know…
That the king is in residence there.”
Now we understand why Don Bosco told Dominic Savio that to be a saint is to be happy. To be a saint means to be in sanctifying grace, to have God in our heart. Now, if we possess God, who can be happier than us?
Pope Francis can only confirm when he said that “holiness is the most attractive face of the Church.” (Gaudete et Exultate, 9)*