A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
The fourth Sunday in Advent brings us to the verge of the Messianic Mystery, the Incarnation of our Lord, and it is the witness of John the Baptist that shows us how we shall be able to cross the threshold and draw near with faith to the hour of the Lord’s appearing. “THIS is the witness of John, when the Jews sent Priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he said, I am not. Art thou the Prophet? And he answered, No.”
As we were reminded last Sunday, John spent his entire life and ministry, both in its trials and blessings, devoted to the truth and meaning of Christ’s Incarnate presence. John knew that nothing else could ever rightly occupy our praise, because nothing else was capable of bringing into our hearts and souls the fullness of joy which our lives all seek. Remember how even in the womb John leapt for joy at his Saviour’s presence.
So when the people came to find him, and to find what his ministry meant, it was perfectly simple for him to answer, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah.” And this is the profound lesson for us: John knew who he was—even claimed without any hesitation a Scriptural title for himself—because he also knew, more clearly than anything, who Jesus was. From this point of faithful certainty, all other spiritual vision and understanding proceeds. The soul is liberated from bearing for itself the burden of salvation (‘I am not the Christ’), and is free therefore from all worldly preoccupations or pretentions. John possesses the certainty of his own position, to say, ‘I am what I am’, and to be clear what that means. And as we have said, that is possible because in his own life and person John knows the unshakeable anchoring reference point that is Jesus: Jesus who is Christ, not only in His divine power and wisdom, forming the world beyond our power of imagining, but also human and mortal, living out a visible and fragile story like each of us. John shows us how, in every way, Jesus is the answer to all our soul searching. When Jesus appears, then, John proclaims, ‘behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.
Such is to be our conviction also, as we approach the mystery of our Lord’s birth. The stable with its humble and beguiling scene of new motherhood and infancy, the shy but brave visits of the shepherds and the magi, and then the dramatic flight to Egypt—in the story of our Lord’s earthly arrival we are meant to find and to see the vision of our Salvation appearing. The infant Jesus is the Lamb of God, the provision of God’s redeeming love, the Light Who suffers all of our darkness. As we behold that reality, we discover our joy, and find the voice and language of our faith, so that with Paul we may proclaim, “Rejoice in the Lord always…In nothing be anxious: but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” That is the true message of Christmas.