Third Sunday of Advent (B)
Bearing witness to Jesus is our mission
Is 61:1-2a, 10-11; I Thes 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday” because the Mass for today begins with the opening antiphon: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” To remind ourselves that we are preparing for the very joyful occasion of the birth of Jesus, we light the rose candle in the Advent wreath, and the priest wear rose vestments.
The common theme of the day’s Scripture readings is one of joy and encouragement. The readings urge us to make the preparations required of us as we await the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives. Holy Scripture reminds us that the coming of Jesus, past, present, and future, is the reason for our rejoicing.
The Prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, encourages the Jewish exiles returning from Babylon to rejoice because their God, Yahweh, is their strong Guide, Provider and Protector.
St. Paul, in the second reading, advises the Thessalonian Christians to “rejoice always” by leading blameless, holy and thankful lives guided by the Holy Spirit, because Christ’s second coming is near, and he is faithful in his promise to reward them.
Today’s Gospel tells us that John the Baptist came to bear witness to Jesus as the Light of the world. The evangelist John presents John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “a voice in the desert” calling for Israelites to prepare a way for the coming of Jesus. John in his Gospel takes special care to stress the fact that Jesus surpasses John the Baptist. The Baptizer declares: “I am baptizing only with water; but there is One among you–you don’t recognize him–and I am not worthy to untie the straps of his shoes.”
There was a Rabbinic saying which stated that a disciple might do for his master anything that a servant did, except only to untie his sandals. That was too menial a service for even a disciple to render. So John said: “One is coming whose slave I am not fit to be.” John’s mission was only to “prepare the way.” Any greatness he possessed came from the greatness of the One whose coming he foretold. John is thus the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself for Jesus. He lived only to point the way to Christ.
The idea that the Baptizer came as a witness to testify to the Light (Jesus), is found only in the Gospel of John. According John, Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Just as the dawn of each new day brings joy, the coming of Jesus, the Light of the world, causes us to rejoice. We, the Church, are called to bear witness to Christ by word and deed, in good times and bad—when it suits us and when it doesn’t.
The witness of the Church, ironically, has often been more faithful under persecution than under prosperity. We need to be messengers who point out Christ to others, just as John did. John the Baptist’s role as a joyful witness prepared the way for Jesus. John also provides an example for us because our vocation as Christians is to bear “witness” to Christ by our transparent Christian lives.
The Baptizer wants all the Jews to rejoice because the long-expected Messiah, as the light of the world, will remove the darkness of sin from the world. We rejoice at the humility of John the Baptizer, who tells the Sanhedrin members challenging him that he is unworthy even to become the slave of Jesus the Messiah. We also rejoice in the sincerity and commitment of John who spent himself completely in preparing people for the long-awaited Messiah. We have an additional reason to rejoice because, like John the Baptizer, we, too, are chosen to bear witness to Christ Jesus, the Light of the world.
Our mission, as brothers and sisters of Christ and members of his Church, is to reflect Christ’s Light to others, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun. It is especially important during the Advent season that we reflect Christ’s sharing love and his unconditional forgiveness through our lives. There are too many people who live in darkness and poverty, and who lack real freedom because of their evil addictions and bad choices. There are others who are deafened and blinded by the cheap attractions of the world. Many others feel lonely, unwanted, rejected, and marginalized.
Let us bring the true Light of Christ to illumine the lives of all these brothers and sisters during this Advent season through our sharing love, overflowing mercy, unconditional forgiveness, and humble service.
We will be able to accomplish this witnessing mission of radiating Christ’s Light only by repenting of our sins, asking God’s pardon every day, and by renewing our lives through our daily prayers, by frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation, by attending and taking part in the Eucharistic celebration, by reading the Bible daily in meditative, prayerful fashion, and by performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Fr. Pascal Robert OFM