Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
I remember coming out into the sanctuary the first mass after the spring shutdown because of covid… there you were all sitting as you are now, with masks on and I remember thinking with anxiety: “Who are you?” This is not an uncommon question to be asked. “Who are you?” It may be that the person asking the question may be asking for the most basic information possible. Or have you ever caught sight of yourself in a mirror or picture and asked, “who are you?” a question that requires a much deeper response that may take a lifetime to answer. A lot depends on the context.
Perhaps some of you here today were asked this very question after you entered the church… in order to cross your name off the reserve list. Also, if you pick something up at post office or drugstore… One time, I got lost in the SJRH and a nurse asked me in a rather reprimanding way: “Who are you?” that and added… “what are you doing here… in surgery?” Oh no, I don’t want to be in here!! Or the child who sasses the parent and the parent response with, “Just who do you think you are?” The tone implied is quite possibly the way the priests and Levites were talking to John.
Today’s Gospel tells us that religious leaders from Jerusalem (think of a high ranking official from the Vatican) went to find John the Baptist and asked, “Who are you?”
And look how John responds to the question: “I am not the Christ.” Where did that come from? It seems that John had only one thing on his mind. He was so focused on the coming of the Messiah that the first thing he thought of saying was not “I am the son of Zachariah,”or “I’m a preacher,” or “I’m a guy with an unusual diet and crazy clothes.” No, John simply said, “I am not the Christ.”
As the gospel unfolds, the official from Jerusalem press on: “So, then, are you Elijah? When John says, “No, I am not,” the next inquirer, asks, “Are you Moses, the Prophet?” John’s quick “No,” seems to have aimed at telling them to stop the games. So, they get serious: “Important people in Jerusalem have sent us to ask this. What should we tell them?” They’re not fooling around.
This is John’s chance to get through to them, so he quotes Isaiah, which they would have been familiar with, “I am the voice crying out, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord!’” John’s interrogators refused to take the bait. John was ready to involve them in a discussion of what God was doing in their midst.
Instead, they bring the question back to his identity and qualifications as a person preaching hope and change. “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or Moses, why are you riling up the people?” So John met them at their level and says, “One is coming after me… I am not worthy to untie his sandal.” In other words, “You’ve not seen anything yet!”
This story tells us that John had nothing to say about himself that did not relate to the coming Christ. From what we hear in the rest of the Gospels, that’s a pretty accurate thumbnail portrait of this Advent prophet. He knew who he was as someone with a mission, driven by the Spirit of God.
What about us? Have we ever in prayer asked God with all sincerity, “who are you?” No doubt we have asked, “where are you,” in difficult times! Or in prayer, have you ever allowed God to ask, “who are you?” Try it! Have a pen and paper or better yet, a notebook or journal and write down what comes to the forefront, what bears light to your spiritual growth?
John awoke something in his people, and the religious leaders were very concerned about it. We, too, are surrounded by attention-getting calls to think and do, to buy or believe different messages. How do we figure this out? How do we recognize what is right and what is not?
Today’s readings offer at least three criteria for knowing what is of God — in ourselves and others. Isaiah tells us that God’s spirit consistently moves on behalf of people who are left behind, the poor, brokenhearted and immobilized.
Paul tells us that one essential mark of true believers is the joy that comes from knowing how good God is.
And John’s testimony tells us that those moved by God always point beyond themselves.
The question we are left with from today’s readings is, “How does our care for others, our joy and our awareness of God, the light that we reflect, reveal to others “who you are?”