Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Is 61:1-2A, 10-11 / Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54 / 1 Thes 5:16-24 / Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
The Third Sunday of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. The readings for this Sunday focus on the theme of joy. Isaiah proclaims a message of good news and glad tidings. Our second reading encourages us to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing. Then John in the gospel tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Advent is a time during which we prepare for the coming of the Lord. He is coming to us sacramentally at Christmas. He is coming to us individually at the end of our lives. He is coming to us collectively at the end of time.
Now suppose we are told that the Christ whom we are waiting for is already here in our midst as one of us. What difference would it make? Here is a story of the enormous difference that the awareness of the presence of Christ among us could make in our lives as individuals and as communities.
A certain monastery discovered that it was going through a crisis. Some of the monks left, no new candidates joined them, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old, depressed, and bitter in their relationship with one another.
The abbot heard about a holy man, a hermit living alone in the woods, and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and looked like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him. The secret was that one of the monks presently living at the monastery was actually the Messiah, but that He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.
With this revelation, the abbot returned to the monastery, summoned a community meeting and recounted what the hermit had told him. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Brother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he’s always eating and drinking and cannot fast.
The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging His true identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make any headway in figuring out who was the Christ among them. At the end of the meeting, what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, excepting himself, could be the Christ.
From that day on, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could be the very Christ. They began to show more love for one another. Their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly, people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread, and soon candidates began to show up. The monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All of this came about because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.
In today’s gospel, John the Baptist tries to announce the same powerful message to the Jews of his time who were anxiously waiting for the coming of the Messiah. John tells them, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
The reason why today we would not be able to recognize Jesus as our Lord and Messiah is because, like the Jews in Jesus’ time, we have definite ideas about how the Messiah is going to come. For the Jews, the Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from, humanly speaking, because He came from God (John 7:27). When finally, Jesus came, born of a woman like every other person, they could not recognize Him. He was too ordinary and unimpressive.
Since then, God has continually reached out toward us, but we resist His coming by hiding in layers of distractions. Christ wants to speak to us in the silence of prayer, but we drown His voice with noise from televisions and cell phones. Christ wants to talk to us through His words. Hearing God’s word on Sundays is not like listening to a TV recording being played. When God’s word is proclaimed, it enlightens our minds on what to do. It challenges us and tests our wills and moves and inspires our hearts.
He comes in the sacraments, especially in those of the Eucharist and Confession. As Christians, we may recognize the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Eucharist and the other sacraments. We may also recognize Him in our fellow human beings, especially among the poor, the marginalized, those who have no voice in society. Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you did this to Me.”
There are other ways in which God comes to our lives. The list includes events, both good and bad, people we encounter daily, the beauty of nature, books, plays, and movies that have cultural and Christian values. The season of Advent is a time for us to get in tune with all of the ways in which Christ comes, so that when He comes at Christmas, we will be ready to recognize Him, regardless of the form in which He chooses to appear.
As Angelus Silesius said, “Do not seek God in outer space. Your heart is the only place in which to meet Him face to face.” This Sunday we are called to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord. We can do this by living in joy, by praying without ceasing, and by reflecting on the mystery of the incarnation. As we prepare for the Lord, let us also remember those who are in need. We can show our love for our neighbors by reaching out to those who are suffering and by working to create a more just and compassionate world.