Third Sunday of Advent B: December 19, 2023

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Fr. John Tran

Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American writer. When he died in 1864, he had on his desk the outline of a play he never got a chance to finish. The play centered on a person who never appeared on stage. Everyone talked about him. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of minor characters described him. They told everybody what he would be like. They told everybody what he would do. But the main character never appeared. The Old Testament is something like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s play. It too ended without the main character putting in an appearance. Everyone talked about the Messiah. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, told the people what he would be like. They told the people what he would do. But the Messiah never appeared until the time of the last prophet, John the Baptist.

Today’s Gospel reading from John is again taken up with John the Baptist. But in today's reading we hear more about John the Baptist from John himself, rather than someone telling us about him. So, what do we learn?

First, we learn that John is a person who knows who he is; he knows his place in the scheme of things. We often hear someone saying, “I have to find myself;” maybe at one time or another we have said it ourselves. But not John the Baptist. John knows that he is not following in the footsteps of his father, Zacharia; no, not the Jewish priesthood for John. Rather, he says, “I am a voice crying out in the desert; make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet had said.” John knows who he is: one crying out in the desert get ready for the Lord for he is coming soon.

So, you would think that John is a prophet. But he says that he is not Elijah, the Prophet, which referred to Isaiah, nor the Christ. John takes no title for himself. He does not pretend to be anyone that people are looking for. You could say that John wants to be invisible. Why? Because he has a job to do, a mission to perform; and he knows that he is not important. He is only an instrument. We are reminded of St. Francis, who prayed, “Make me an instrument of your peace.”

I think we can agree that John the Baptist is the perfect Christian: An Instrument of the Father. But because of the Christ who followed John, whose sandal strap he was not worthy of untie, we are even more that John was during his lifetime. We are made the Father’s children, his sons and daughters, because Jesus, the Christ, made us so. Jesus became incarnate, a human like us, so that we could become part of his very Body. We are his Body right now as we gather in the Mass, as he become present for us in bread and wine. And we carry him out from this church to be the consolation of many.

During his lifetime this is something John the Baptist could not even conceive of. We start out more than John could hope to be. Yes, we are messengers of God, but we are proclaimers of Jesus as his Father’s sons and daughters. Why is it that we find it so difficult to be even a modern day John the Baptist? Do you think that we can be this Advent a new beginning of the Lord’s presence in this world?