3rd Sunday of Advent 2020

My Dear People, 

Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent also known as Joyful Sunday. John the Evangelist introduces the last and the greatest prophet, John the Baptist, who was sent from God.  His primary role in the Fourth Gospel is to be a witness to Jesus; the Baptist was not the light; he came to testify to the light.  The purpose of this testimony to the light is so all might believe through him.  The Gospel later declares that Moses and the whole of Scripture bear witness to Jesus (1:45; 2:22; 5:39). The Baptist appears here as a representative of all who “testify to the light,” meaning, the whole prophetic tradition. Israel’s prophets, to whom “the word of God came” (1 Chron 17:3) spoke His will and announced His coming. The Baptist completes this prophetic witness to the light. He came so that the “light might be made known to Israel” (1:31).

The Evangelist traces the active presence of the Light, or Word, in creation, especially in Israel.  He first speaks of creation at large: the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. All human beings are illuminated by the divine Light in our capacity to reason, to know the truth. As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, “The light of natural reason itself is a participation of divine light.” Our natural ability to know the truth “whereby we discern what is good and what is evil. . . is nothing else than an imprint on us of the divine light.” Human beings can know the truth and discern good from evil by our own natural abilities, which are themselves gifts from God. Wherever there is truth or goodness in the world, there is a trace of the divine Word. As St. Justin Martyr writes. “Everything that the pagan philosophers and legislators discovered and expressed well, they accomplished through their discovery and contemplation of some part of the Logos (i.e. the Word). The light, which was in the world, is the divine Word  through whom the world was made. 

However, the world preferred to ignore the Light.  “The world did not know him.” As St. Paul writes in Rom 1:18,  human beings, despite witness to God’s creation, “in their wickedness, suppress the truth.” Although the fourth gospel does not have an explicit account of original sin, it affirms that the world, which God created  (see Gen, 1.31), has fallen into sin and spiritual darkness for refusing to acknowledge and receive the divine Light.

The Evangelist introduces us to the testimony or “witness” of John the Baptist. Testimony, or witness, is an important term in John’s Gospel. Instead of using the term “evangelize,” John speaks of “witnessing,” which in a Christian context suggests not only personal, firsthand knowledge but also risking one’s all. 

A delegation from Jerusalem arrives, sent to find out whether John is, or thinks he is, one of the end-time figures whom the Jews were expecting. There was no uniform expectation for a messianic figure in Jewish antiquity, and the various titles in this section (Messiah,
Elijah, the Prophet) reflect the diversity of end-time expectations. The Baptist openly acknowledges, I am not the Messiah, God’s promised deliverer. 

The Jerusalem delegation then asks, Are you Elijah? Some biblical texts prophesied that Elijah the prophet would return before God’s end-time action to save his people and punish the wicked. The prophet Malachi describes Elijah’s role in the end times: 

         Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, Before the day of the Lord comes. . , . 

          He will turn the heart of the fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers (Mal 3:23-24).

As described in Matthew and Mark, John the Baptist’s manner of life and dress were patterned on that of Elijah (compare 2 Kings 1:8 and Matt. 3:4).  Here the Baptist denies that he is literally the prophet Elijah; yet in the Synoptics, Jesus speaks of him as Elijah  (Matt 17:11-13) in the sense of acting “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

When asked by the delegation of priests, Levites and Pharisees,: “Why do you baptize?” The Baptist responds by pointing to the dignity of the one who is coming and the fact that he himself is beneath the status of this one’s slave (whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie).  The first day closes with the specification of the geographical location of the Baptist’s activity- in Bethany across the Jordan.

 Yours in Christ,

Fr Vincent Clemente



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