T'is the season, Part Three
3rd Sunday Advent B 2015

Tom Bartolomeo
3rd Sunday Advent B 2015
Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11 Luke 1:1
Thessalonians 5:16-24 John 1:6-8, 19-28
Reproduced with Permission

Why does John the Baptist dominate the Gospel leading to the birth of Christ who when asked "Who are you?", said, 'I am not the Christ. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said'?" (John 1:23).

There is no story of John the Baptist or the prophet Isaiah without Jesus. Many thousands of people were 'acquainted with Jesus' but few truly identified with Jesus in his time and now. The Apostles only fully identified with Jesus after his resurrection and ascension into heaven. We may all wonder why so many of us intent on being good Christian Catholics struggle in our identification with Jesus in the public square. There have been, however, many examples of those who have shown and lived " the way and the truth and the life" which Jesus brought to mankind. (John 14:1).

When the secular media report stories of persecuted and martyred Christians in other countries we are horrified but we can take heart that Christ can inflame our faith if we whole heartedly carry the light of Christ to our spouses, children, relatives and strangers and if when necessary as martyrs. Jesus, we should remember, was martyred for us. Recently, The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported "In face of beheading, Iraqi children proclaim love of Jesus." The article went on to read:

When ISIS militants gave four Iraqi children the choice of converting to Islam or death by beheading, the children chose to follow Jesus, the Vicar of Bagdad, Canon Andrew White, stated in an interview with the Orthodox Christian Network.

'Islamic State turned up and said to the children, you say the words that you will follow Mohammed," White stated. "The children, all under 15, four of them, said, 'No, we love Yesua (the Iraqi name for Jesus), we have always loved Yesua. Yesua has always been with us.' ( http://www.jpost.com/Christian-News/In-face-of-beheading-Iraqi-children-proclaim-l ove-for-Jesus-383538 ).

There is a special grace which shines in our hearts when we face insult, injury, persecution, threats or even death for the sake of Christ and the welfare of unknown others besides ourselves. A star may lead us to our Bethlehem or a prophet and teacher like John the Baptist to "testify to the light" we would carry. Will we be open to such grace? Will we be awake as Christ told us?

The four Iraqi boys and martyrs as odd as it may seem, said, before their beheading, "Yesua has always been with us". As genuine Christian martyrs they saw Jesus in their persecutors joined to His suffering for the salvation of the world until the end of time. How often we can miss Christ when we only identify with him in our "joyful experiences" while blind to him in our "suffering experiences." Consider the life of the great Apostle Paul who explained, I must fill up the suffering of Christ while I live (Colossians 1:24) or Saint Thomas More who gave his executioner a gold coin and thanked him for his work or John the Baptist who for many years lived a life of penance in the wilderness anticipating the advent of Christ or Isaiah who suffered through the debasement of God's wayward people anticipating Christ seven hundred years before his birth.

Christ has already come one time and will come again at a time we do not know. He waits for his birth in our hearts especially in the suffering we bear in and with him in this world leading to our union with him and our Father in heaven some day. For many Christmas is a holiday only, presents and Christmas parties far removed from the first coming of Christ, "Silent night, holy night/ All is calm, all is bright/ Round yon virgin, mother and child/ Holy infant, so tender and mild/ Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace" . . . sleep in the heavenly peace of four Iraqi children. Whose children, co-workers or strangers are waiting for our saving light?

Recently, Pope Francis said that the time before Christmas should be enshrouded in silence. Silent night, holy night. John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness to draw attention to the advent of the first Christmas. Like Isaiah John rejoiced "heartily in the Lord" whom he knew was coming but did not know who he was or where he would appear? John the Baptist saw Christ in God's creation which Isaiah also saw "as the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations", he said. (Isaiah 61:10-11.) All living things, flowers, plants and humans, turn to the light for life, growth and guidance. Silent Night, Holy Night . . . all is bright.

"Let there be light" began creation, and the Apostle John in his Gospel testified "to the light" and said: "All things came into being through him. And without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of the people." (John 1:3-5). Forget all the fanfare and commercials associated with Christmas. Last year on the 29th of December, the feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis gave this exhortation which we can follow in preparation of Christmas now:

Today gazing on the Holy Family lets us also be drawn into the simplicity of the life they led in Nazareth. It is an example that does our families great good, helping them increasingly to become communities of love and reconciliation, in which tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness is experienced. Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: "may I", "thank you" and "sorry". In our family, when we are not intrusive and ask "may I", in our family when we are not selfish and learn to say "thank you", and when in a family one realizes he has done something wrong and knows how to say "sorry", in that family there is peace and joy. Let us remember these three words. Can we repeat them all together: may I, thank you, sorry. (Everyone: may I, thank you, sorry!) I would also like to encourage families to become aware of the importance they have in the Church and in society. The proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, first passes through the family to reach the various spheres of daily life. (Pope Francis, December 29, 2013: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2013/documents/papa-francesco_ angelus_20131229.html ).