Third Sunday of Advent 2012 – Luke 3:10-18 – December 16, 2012 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
We sometimes fail to recognize the people among us. St. John’s gospel, in the opening verses of the first chapter describes the Second Person of the Trinity: “In the beginning was the Word, / and the Word was with God, / and the Word was God…. He was in the world, / and the world came to be through him, / but the world did not know him.”
You might see in a late-night re-run the comedy entitled Mrs. Doubtfire. This movie presents a parent who has disguised himself and for a time goes undetected. Loving but irresponsible, father of three children, Robin Williams is estranged from his exasperated spouse Sally Field. Sally Field needs a housekeeper. So Robin gets a make-up artist to disguise his face; besides, Robin can change his voice. Then he gets the job of house-keeper and he thus lives with his children. Although the father lives with the children, for a while they do not recognize him.
When St. John the Baptist speaks, the crowds do not realize that the Messiah would soon be in their midst. Yet the Baptist tells them. “All were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all saying, ‘…One mightier than I is coming.’”
John the Baptist feels compelled to deny that he is the Messiah. As a forerunner, John the Baptist asserts that the Messiah is on the way. Some think that John might be the one anointed by God; is the Baptist God’s agent of salvation? John denies himself being the blessed one of God.
The meaning of “Messiah” is fluid; hope is present but ill defined. So John defines the Messiah in comparison to himself. First, the Messiah has a greater status than does John. The Messiah is superior. John does not count himself worthy even to serve as the Messiah’s slave by untying the thong of his sandals. Only a slave would do such a menial task; disciples were not expected to untie their master’s sandals, yet John sees the Messiah as far greater than himself.
The Messiah will come for all the people. And the Messiah will be more powerful than the Baptist, for His baptism will mean so much more. John will baptize for repentance and bring a cleansing, so that one’s life will serve God. John’s baptism forces a decision for or against repentance and this prepares for the Messiah’s work. The Messiah, however, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and achieve a lasting relation with the Spirit. The Lord is coming among us.
The next announcement scares us. The Messiah has in his hand a winnowing fan. A farmer would toss the harvested grain into the air, and in this way the farmer would allow the wind to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Messiah, like the farmer with his wheat, is on the point of gathering the elect into everlasting joy. This is an eschatological scene. So John the Baptist’s preaching warns against death’s judgment, and it announces the coming Messiah.
The Baptist exhorts the people in many ways. We picture him continuing this mode of speaking over the course of time. John the Baptist perhaps for several years helps the crowds to become aware that God dwells among them and that the Messiah will soon arrive. Zephaniah, the prophet whom the Church quotes today, insists that “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior” (3:14-18).
This is the “good news” that the Baptist preaches. Vatican II has picked up this expression, and Pope Benedict also uses this same phrase. “Evangelization” is a Greek word by which we mean the bringer of good news; in his rugged way of desert living, in his camel skin clothing with a leather belt at his waist, shoeless and hirsute, the Baptist excites people with the expectation that the Messiah is not only near but already at hand. This savior will free us from evil’s dominion. As surely as Moses led the people away from slavery in Egypt, so this savior will loose the cuffs that bind our hands and hearts to our passions.
We usually fail to recognize the giant shoulders on which we stand. Education advances each year. Communication moves forward. I used to think that Newsweek Magazine would last, but recently it revealed its printed edition was ending. We ought be aware of the Word of God having lived and died and risen and interceding for us. We ought be aware of this good news.
In his classic tale of the Trojan War, the poet Homer tells of Odysseus for ten years seeking his home in Greece. When finally Odysseus arrives, he hides his identity, because evil minded men have encamped at his palace, and his wife Penelope is under siege to marry a suitor. Needing helpers, Odysseus reveals his presence only to his son Telemachus and to his faithful swineherd. Although his aged nurse takes in her breath in sighting a scar on his leg, although his old dog Argus recognizes him and wags his tail and then collapses in death, Odysseus sets up those who would take away his home. These no-goods Odysseus shoots with his arrows and his javelins.
His wife Penelope fears being duped and refuses to accept this noble stranger, until he tells his secret, that their marriage bed is built on the stump of an olive tree.
John the Baptist endeavors to make us aware of the noble savior in our midst. He who has been foretold for ages, who has freed us from Satan’s dominion and who has championed our way to eternal life, He lives among us, even when we fail to recognize Him. Let us prepare the way of the Lord. Amen.