In the first reading, we have a powerful text from Isaiah, we hear the words of God’s chosen one, the one who proclaims that he has received the Spirit of God. The Spirit has given him a mission:
1. He has been sent to bring good news to the oppressed,
2. To bind up those with broken hearts,
3. To release those who are imprisoned and
4. To proclaim a year of God’s favor to all people.
The chosen one of God rejoices in God and acknowledges that God has done amazing things for him, clothing him with the garments of salvation and with the robe of righteousness. The chosen one also acknowledges that God will do amazing things throughout the earth.
In John’s Gospel, we hear a conversation between John and the religious leaders of Israel. They want to know who he is. Who does he claim to be? John admits he is not the Messiah nor Elijah nor the prophet. He says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’”
John sees himself as one who goes before the Lord – preparing the way for the Messiah. John acknowledges that someone will come after him – in fact, he is among the people already and they cannot see him. John admits that this someone is important – so important that he is unworthy to untie the thong of his sandal.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians invites, the people to be filled with gratitude. He encourages them to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. He encourages them to abstain from every form of evil. He concludes by blessing them, asking God to keep them safe and sound, blameless! He reminds them that
God is faithful, God does things like this.
So how do these readings impact our daily life?
When I prayed with the scriptures this week, I was struck by the behavior of John the Baptist. John had been chosen by God as the one to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Son of God. It was an important mission that he had been given. Most of us, when we are asked to do something important – we strut, and we brag, we act as if we are the important one, and sometimes we exaggerate our importance. Sometimes when our work is done, we continue to behave as if we are still in a position of influence, as if we are important. Often, we will do anything to maintain our level of influence, our status, our power even at the expense of truth, our family, and our own health.
John did not do that. In fact, when the religious leaders of Israel come along and want information about him, his role, his importance etc. he quickly points out who he is and who is not. In fact, he has the courage to tell them that the Messiah walks among them and that he, John, is of little importance in comparison.
John incarnates the virtue of humility. St. Vincent de Paul apparently once said, “Humility is nothing but the truth, and pride is nothing but lying.”
How do we nurture the virtue of humility? It is quite simple really; we look around and we notice the wonder and beauty of creation and of the people around us and we celebrate. We celebrate the beauty and wonder, we celebrate the people and their accomplishments, we acknowledge our own gifts. We all have a purpose; we are all important; there is no need for me to look at myself and rank myself better or worse than you. We simply are! God does not expect me to better or worse than you. We are unique and we, all of us, are gifted by God.
The opposite of humility is pride. I look at myself and I compare myself to others – I compare my abilities, my good looks, my bank account, my accomplishments, my skills, my property, my job, and I rank myself. This is an exercise in futility for always there will be people who are more than or less than me. When directly asked, John reveals who he is and his mission. When that does not satisfy, John says clearly that there is one among them that is much more important for the story of our salvation. He urges them to open their eyes and look!
We are living in a time when roles and jobs and power are important to so many people. This year shows us that the virus does not care who we are. This year also shows us that if we are rich, we can access health resources that others cannot. As Catholics it is important for us to remember the dignity and value of each human life – from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. There should not be a double standard. God values the most vulnerable and throughout sacred scripture; God chooses to care for the poor and the marginalized. In her great hymn of praise which we pray every day, Mary expresses her gratitude that God throws down the princes and the rich and lifts up the poor and the lowly. Mary highlights and rejoices at God’s behavior!
As we continue our preparations for the great feast of the Nativity of Jesus, let us think about our response to the gifts and blessings of others. Do we assume the role of God and try to knock people down or do we try to lift them up? Do we seek people out or do we avoid and ignore people? Do we celebrate people and their gifts or do we long to have what they have? Do I recognize and celebrate who I am, my uniqueness, or do I see myself as less than?
In baptism and confirmation, we celebrate the fact that we are God’s anointed ones – gifted by the Spirit. We are called and we are sent to be good news to all people. We are called and sent to rejoice in the Lord. In us the righteousness and praise of God find expression. This week let our thoughts, our words, and our actions be Good News to everyone we meet! Let us bring joy to the world!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI