Who are we? Advent reflections on John the Baptist and messages from Paul and Isaiah

Excerpt from Mary McGlone’s/NCR’s reflection on Sunday readings:

John was ready to involve them in a discussion of what God was doing in their midst. Instead, they brought the question back to his identity and qualifications as a person preaching hope and change. “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or Moses, why are you riling up the people?”

John met them at their level. If they weren’t going to let their spiritual curiosity be piqued beyond suspicion of him, all he could say is, “You’ve not seen anything yet!”

This interaction implies that John had nothing to say about himself that did not relate to the coming Christ. From what we hear in the rest of the Gospels, that’s a pretty accurate thumbnail portrait of this Advent prophet. He knew who he was as someone permeated by grace, impelled by the Spirit of God.

This third Sunday of Advent presents us with lots of possibilities for our pondering. On one hand, we might hear these readings as an invitation to introspection. They invite us to take the time to ask our ourselves when and how God’s Spirit has welled up in us, confirming our faith and moving us to say yes to God, the future and the vocation we have received as Christians.

Getting in touch with our own sense of call is an important form of prayer as it both reminds us of past moments of grace and attunes us to those to come.  Today’s readings also offer us criteria for discernment about the messages we hear in our world today. John awoke something in his people, and the religious leaders were concerned about it. We are surrounded by attention-getting calls to think and do, to buy or believe different messages. How do we discern?

Today’s readings offer at least three criteria for knowing what is of God — in ourselves and others.

Isaiah tells us that God’s Spirit consistently moves on behalf of people who are left behind, the poor, the brokenhearted and the immobilized.

Paul tells us that one essential mark of true believers is the joy that comes from knowing how good God is.

John’s testimony tells us that those moved by God always point beyond themselves.

The question we are left with from today’s readings is, “How does your care for others, your joy and your awareness of God tell others who you are?”

[Mary M. McGlone, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, is writing the history of the St. Joseph sisters in the U.S.]

Editor’s note: This Sunday scripture commentary appears in full in NCR’s sister publication Celebration, a worship and homiletic resource. Request a sample issue at CelebrationPublications.org.

This story appeared in the Dec 1-14, 2017 print issue.

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