An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B, John 1:6-8; 19-28, December 11, 2011
IT IS PROBABLY not an exaggeration to say that, of all mortals, those whose names are well known are showbiz celebrities and politicians. Almost to a man, both are eager to publish their names and everything they do, and writers are even paid to promote their self-importance. Probably, no mortals crave to have the spotlight focused on them than these two groups of people. No deed of theirs is so small to pass unnoticed. Of some politicians, it could be said that while alive, they name buildings and streets after them through people loyal to them. Notices are put up on government projects to say that these are being undertaken through their efforts. How they wish, one can only conclude about their frame of mind, they were always in the limelight, the center of attention of their followers and fans! And funny that some of them would even view themselves as larger than life.
In the Bible, God alone is the center of life. It is incumbent upon people, as creatures, to recognize how he works in history. Though God is transcendent, he is involved in the affairs of men. In his plan to share his life with them, he raised up a people to be his own to proclaim his deeds in history. By recognizing him as the only Lord and God, men can experience wholeness and integrity in their individual and communitarian life. (On the other hand, the lordship of men over others will only bring evils to the community.) It is for this reason that God raised prophets. The prophets proclaim that the caring and loving God is present among his people, and that he is working on their behalf. Thus, in the First Reading (Isa 61:1-2.9-11), Isaiah says that he was anointed by God to proclaim a new order which God is giving to those who had been exiled to Babylon: glad tidings to the poor, healing to the brokenhearted, liberty to captives, release to prisoners, comfort to those who mourn and a year of favor to all. He will ultimately establish justice upon the earth (Isa 61:1-2.11).
In all this, however, it is important to notice that in so proclaiming, Isaiah identifies himself as God’s servant who points not to himself but to the saving deeds of Yahweh among his people.
In the Gospel (John 1:6-8.19-28), we meet another prophet by the name of John the Baptizer. God is sending the true light to the world to enlighten men so that, once they accept the light, they will be empowered to become children of God (John 1:11-12). By accepting the light, men will receive light. When John came on the scene, preaching God’s word and calling them to repentance, people flocked to him in big numbers. He was an instant celebrity. And were he a politician, he could have utilized his popularity, and initiated a personality cult around him. But he did not. He never capitalized on his reputation. Asked by the priests and Levites from Jerusalem, he did not claim to be a Messiah (anointed by God), or an Elijah returned to earth (Mal 3:23), or a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15.18). Rather, like Isaiah’s, his mission was to let people realize what God was active among them: that God sent his Son, the true light, and his job is simply to testify to the light (John 1:8). He was the voice in the desert prophesied by Isaiah to prepare for the coming of the true light, the Messiah.
Such is the call of every Christian, and of every Christian community—we are called to proclaim his saving deeds, we are called to be witnesses to the true light, Christ himself. Just as John the Baptizer proclaimed what God was doing among his people, so we must proclaim what God is doing in the community and in the world. And the witness to his living presence is our life itself. John the Baptizer’s appearance betrayed that he came from God. The same should be true of our life. It should point to what God is doing in our midst, among the people we are part of. There are various ways of doing this, and one of them is to be sensitive to the events happening in our midst. In these events, we can recognize what God wants to say to us. Here we become like road signs—people can point to us as signs of what real life is all about. We do not stand in the middle of the road. We are readable and clear signs of how God works in our present history.
Matthew puts it this way: “Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father” (Matt 5:16). John has something akin to this: “But he who acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God” (John 3:21). The focus of other people’s attention is not we, who are merely signposts, but God our heavenly Father. Thus the Gospel is a challenge: Is God recognized in our lives? Do people perceive his presence in the world through the life we lead? Being a Christian is not really about telling people about what one has done either in the Church or in the secular society, or about what one has contributed to the uplift of people from misery, no matter how noble this may be; rather, in contrast to being a showbiz personality or being a politician, being a Christian is about allowing people to recognize God’s presence in all we say and do.