Views From The Pews – Third Sunday of Advent – December 17, 2023

Reflection from the Gospel reading for today: John 1:6-8, 19-28

There are, today’s gospel suggests, two ways of approaching life and God’s presence in the world. One way is demonstrated by John. The other way is demonstrated by the priests and Levites. We are either witnesses or interrogators.

John was a witness sent from God. The priests and Levites were interrogators sent by the religious authorities. “Who are you,” they ask John. “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the prophet?” “Why are you baptizing?” They know neither themselves nor the one stands among them. They are in the dark. That’s how it is with interrogators. Witnesses, however, are different. They talk about light. They know the light.

John knows who he is and who he is not. He claims for himself neither too much nor too little. That’s what makes him a credible witness. He speaks the truth but he is not the truth. He is illumined but he is not the light. He is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness but he is not the Word of God. Everything about John points to the light and the life of the one who both stands among us and the one who is coming. John will bet his life on that one. That’s how it is with witnesses. They live and die based on what they have seen, heard, and experienced.

The real difference between witnesses and interrogators is this. Interrogators demand answers. Witnesses offer hope. More than ever our world today needs witnesses of hope. We do not need more answers or explanations. We have enough interrogators. We need to hear “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

John’s is the voice of hope. His words echo through the wildernesses of our world and our lives. John’s, however, was not the first voice of hope. Before John, Mary was proclaiming the greatness of the Lord. She spoke of the one who shows favor to the lowly, offers mercy, and lends the strength of his arm. He fills the hungry with good things and comes to the help of his people.

Before Mary, there was Isaiah. The Lord anointed him to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. He spoke about God comforting those who mourn and rebuilding the ruins of their lives. They will be clothed in garments of salvation and wear robes of righteousness.

John, Mary, Isaiah; each one is a witness of hope. They look at the circumstances of their life and world and see a greater reality. They each testify to a life and presence beyond their own. Within each of their voices is the Word that was in the beginning, the Word that was with God and was God, the Word that became flesh and dwells among us, the Word that enables us to become children of God (John 1). Everything that needs to be said was spoken in that one Word. That Word is our ultimate hope.