3rd Sunday of Advent Reflection by Father Rex Pillai
The story is told of a theologian who had a painting of the crucifixion of Jesus in his study. It showed John the Baptist with a long bony finger pointing to Jesus. One day a visitor asked, “What is your job?” The theologian walked over to the painting and said, “I am that finger.”
In the Old Testament, we come across a number of patriarchs, prophets, kings, and queens who guided the destinies of God’s people. In the New Testament, too, particularly in the gospels, we are introduced to a number of people, and among them is the fierce and formidable figure of John the Baptist. One cannot tell the story of Jesus without first speaking of John the Baptist. He appears on the scene with an uncompromising message. Yet, he held no office and did not belong to a religious or political party. Jesus considers his cousin as someone unique.
John’s task was to prepare the people to receive the long awaited Messiah by calling them to repent. John realized that he was making a chord with people. He saw them responding to his teaching and preaching. People in rows gathered to be baptized in expectation of the Savior who was to come. They asked John, “Teacher, what must we do? ‘Let your life sing,’” he answered. “Let it sing the song of mercy and compassion. Let your life be what it is: God’s joyous melody, sounding outwards in deepest joy. Share your cloak and your food; collect only what is owed; do not extort. Do these and you will be sounding the true melody of your life.”
However, John wanted to make one thing clear to everyone. People should not change because they were drawn to his words. He was merely preparing them for the ONE whose words would be those of the Word of God. When John called people to repent, it was a call to look within, to change their own attitude and trust God who was making the change. It was to be a time of personal renewal with God.
Just as Jesus would have his own group of disciples later on, John, too, would have his own group of disciples. Yet, John does not make himself the focus of his prophetic witness. He does not claim that “he” is the way and the truth and the life. “Someone is coming after me, someone who is more powerful than I am, the straps of whose sandals I am not fit to undo…” John understands his own powerful role he has been called upon to play in the drama of the Incarnation. Jesus’ importance does not diminish John’s importance. John is important precisely because of who Jesus is.
Advent invites us to focus on the kind of people that we are truly capable of becoming. As we work on the darkness within us and gradually begin to experience light and hope, we are asked to share that light and hope with others. Advent is also about helping others overcome their own darkness and finding their own light. It is about helping others grow in their own relationship with God and one another.
John’s way is a challenge to all of us: to foster greatness in others without feeling threatened about the value of their own contribution. We should be free to celebrate the importance of others because we have a sense of our own worth and value before God. John the Baptist manages to do all this, and not surprisingly, Jesus will return the compliment later when he speaks to the crowds telling them that there is no greater mother’s son than John. As the relationship between John and Jesus teaches us, the generosity in recognizing the goodness in others can help them call out the goodness that is in ourselves.
Advent calls us to give others as we have received. It is a time when like John the Baptist, we are called to be the finger pointing away from ourselves to Jesus.