“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice”. These are the very first words that we hear on the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as “Gaudete Sunday”. As we near the birth of our Lord, we, like Our Lady, start to shake with anticipated joy. We can’t wait to see him, to hold him, to hear his cries and coos in the manger at Bethlehem.
Which is why we might be puzzled by our Gospel today. We might ask ourselves, “how is John saying he is not the Christ or Elijah or a prophet cause for joy?” Why should we rejoice at this testimony?
We’re told at the start that John the Baptist is not the light but “came to testify to the light”. We can imagine John the Baptist as the twilight for the sunrise. The twilight announces the sun’s imminent arrival, it’s imminent rising of when it takes its place in the sky, shining over everything on the face of the earth. But the twilight, itself, is not the day or the sun. It runs ahead but ultimately points behind it – towards the sun.
When John says “I am not”, he points to the One who says and is “I am”: Jesus Christ. John knows he is not the Messiah. John is not the savior of the world. Jesus is. And we, too, should rejoice, because the one who saves us is God himself. Most religions teach about us binding ourselves to a deity or God; but only Christianity dares to profess that God first binds himself to us to the point of becoming one of us. And yet, for all of the similarities between us and God, the differences and distinctions are greater. God is God – we are not.
The more we see how distinct we are from Christ, the more we rely on his love, on his grace, on his strength, to make us “perfectly holy” in spirit, soul, and body. Only when we rely on his love rather than our competencies alone do we find the strength God gives us daily to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and refrain from every kind of evil.
May we be like John the Baptist, whose “I am not the Christ” reminds us and everything that our existence is to be a testimony to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, “I AM” in the flesh.
Joseph Yuson – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
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