December 14, 2014 – Third Sunday of Advent
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’.” With those words St. John the Baptist responds to the priests and the Levites who are trying to ascertain who he is, and why he is. Of course, St. John the Baptist is the harbinger of Jesus Christ, most suitable on this Third Sunday of Advent.
Our readings from Isaiah and Thessalonians and the Gospel of John are all intended to prepare the way of the Lord and to assist us with our preparations for the birth of Christ. We are getting ready for the arrival of Jesus, the birth of the Christ child. That is a time of great joy for us because that means salvation is available to us. The prophet Isaiah speaks of that salvation in today’s first reading: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me in the robe of salvation.” Truly we are making ready to sing, “Joy to the world; the Lord is come.” As Isaiah reflects, the “spirit of the Lord” will be upon us.
St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Advent and Christmas are times for a joyful spirit. As Paul advises, we must work not to quench that spirit. In fact, we are called to revel in it. There are so many attitudes which may display themselves at this time of year, all which might stifle the good feelings we may have. This is not a time to have reservations; it is not a time to be indifferent; it is not a time to refute our faith; and it is so easy to become preoccupied with all of the things which are occurring to divert us from the birth of Christ. In his final message to the Thessalonians in this reading Paul calls all to “be faithful” but Paul also reminds us that this faith is based upon our acceptance of the presence and the power of God. St. Paul consistently warns us that one of the evils we must avoid is total self reliance. For Paul that is a greater threat than Satan himself.
The Gospel of John, from which today’s Gospel is drawn, is unique among the four Gospels in many ways. Scholars tend to agree that John’s Gospel was the last written of the four Gospels, and many believe that John may have read the other three Gospels before writing his. The first three Gospels tend to report what Jesus said and did in Galilee. However, John concentrates on what occurred in and around Jerusalem. All of the Gospels trace Jesus’ origins, but John makes it clear that Jesus came from heaven, that Jesus is indeed God incarnate.
John wrote his Gospel so that we might believe. That is why it is so important at this time in Advent — we are not only called to prepare, but to celebrate the arrival of Christ. One prominent theologian said this of John’s Gospel: “It is a pool in which a child might wade, and an elephant swim.” That is why we hear the Word from John as Christmas approaches — it is understood by a child, but those who seek more depth can also find it.
St. John the Baptist understands his place, his rank in relation to the Lord. When he says “I am not worthy to untie his sandal strap,” we must appreciate that untying the master’s sandals was the task of the lowest ranking servant in the household. John the Baptist is indicating that he is even lower than that. In a sense we all are. One of the key aspects of stewardship is humility. This is a time in the church year when each of us must seek and practice humility. The Lord’s birth is imminent. St. John the Baptist provided a cleansing Baptism; however, Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. We need to be prepared for that.