THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B) - GUADETE SUNDAY
In the midst of all this joy, it might seem a bit odd to us that our gospel reading focuses on John the Baptist, the desert hermit who ate insects and told people to repent. We don't typically think of him as a joyful fellow. Yet John the Baptist is the patron saint of spiritual joy. After all, when the pregnant Mary came before her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant at that time with John, he leaped for joy in his mother's womb (Lk 1:44). The gospels tell us John rejoices at the bridegroom's voice (Jn 3:29-30). John has a thing or two to teach us about joy, if we would listen.
John's joy is rooted in humility. Let us not forget that John, by this time, had developed quite a following. This is why in the gospel today, the priests and Levites are sent to ask John about his identity. They want to know just who this man is and what he is up to. They are a little afraid of his influence. The gospels even tell us that there is none born of women who are greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11, Lk 7:28). Have no doubt about it, John is a great man. But when the priests ask him who he is, John does not point to his greatness - or to anything else about him. He tells them plainly, "I am not the Christ." This seems like an obvious enough statement, but it is significant. It is important to know who we are, and who we are not.
I suspect that there is no one reading this who would claim to be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But even though we don't claim it in words, we proclaim it in our actions whenever we fail to rely on God. When we refuse to repent of our sins, when we deny the need for God's forgiveness, we say by our actions that we can save ourselves. We are claiming to be our own Christ. When we think we know better than God, or the Church He founded and continues to guide, we act as our own God. When we put ourselves, not God, first in our lives, we act as if we were the highest good. We act as if we are the Christ.
The truth is that we cannot save ourselves. If we try, we will fail. We need God's love and mercy. We are good, but we are not the greatest good. To recognize reality and our place in it we need to be humble like John the Baptist and admit, "I am not the Christ."
John was humble. That is why he was happy. True humility does not involve berating yourself. We tend to think of pride as saying, "Look how great I am," and humility, it's opposite, as saying, "Look how horrible I am." But both are wrong. Either way you are looking at yourself. Looking always at yourself, even if it is to look down on yourself, is a form of pride. True humility does not look inward, but outward. John never said, "Look at me," either to say how great he was, or how poor he was. Instead, he said, "Look at Him!" John said, "I must decrease so that He might increase" (Jn 3:30). In this way he is like the Virgin Mary, who never points to herself, but always to her Son.
Recognizing that there is a God and we are not Him relieves us of a heavy burden. We cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we might try. When we finally admit that we are not our own personal Christ, we can start to look outside ourselves for the real Christ. We start to look for something greater than ourselves. John recognized Jesus as one infinitely greater than he. He found the incarnate God, born among us to bring us light, love and salvation. There is cause for rejoicing here, for those humble enough to receive Him.
Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice! Indeed, the Lord is near!