12/11/22 Homily: Messengers
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
When imprisoned and in darkness, even the best of men needs encouragement from others. At least, that’s seemingly the case for John the Baptist. He was hailed by Jesus himself as the greatest “among those born of women,” and yet even he reached out for consolation.
John the Baptist had brought many to repentance in preparation for Christ’s advent, and he graciously left the scene when Jesus appeared publicly. After all, Christ must increase, he must decrease. But before his end, John gave his followers one last very important lesson. It’s a lesson of faith—and the nature of faith. Faith becomes active when imprisoned and in darkness.
John could no longer see the Lord, face to face. He could no longer be with him, directly. He was shut off from any sort of sensible consolation; the consolation of sight or of real presence.
But he wasn’t deprived of his hearing. In order to continue in faith, someone else had to preach the good news to him. And as we heard, John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him a very specific question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Jesus gives the messengers a mysterious response. He doesn't tell the messengers directly, “Yes, I am he”. Rather, he told the messengers to give witness to what they themselves have personally seen and heard: "the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
John wouldn’t have to take Jesus’ word that he is the Christ. Rather, the Christ would be revealed through his works. In hearing the testimony of others, John would recognize the fulfillment of prophecy, like the one from our first reading:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.
These were signs that the Glory of the Lord was being revealed to them: Here is your GOD… with divine recompense HE comes to save you.
Again, John would be affirmed in his belief in Jesus, but he had to hear about him from others, in that time of darkness and imprisonment. Similarly, in this season of Advent, we continue to experience an increase in the darkening of days. Light slips away from us little by little as the days become shorter.
Spiritually or emotionally, we might find ourselves enshrouded in darkness like John the Baptist. Our faith might seem to have become blinded or veiled, and Christ can sometimes seem to be very far away from us. The light and warmth that we once received from Jesus can seem a distant memory. Perhaps we might feel imprisoned by certain doubts, fears, habits, or failures; or by the particular circumstances of life.
But it’s precisely at that point that we ought to recall the prophetic action of John the Baptist. He reached out, in order to hear about Jesus from others. He himself had once proclaimed Christ to others. Now others must proclaim Christ to him.
Likewise, there are times when we need to reach out to others, in order to believe in Jesus, especially when we’re in a dark place, and imprisoned by invisible chains.
This is a season filled with many messengers. There are many people joyfully anticipating the birth of Jesus. If we’re lacking that joy personally, it’s okay to reach out to them—to share in their joy, and their experience of Jesus this season. It’s okay to go to those Christmas parties, socials, performances, and other events, and allow others to console us through their Christian witness. And when we’re strong again, we can do the same for others.
On this Gaudete Sunday, which means: rejoice; let us all share our joy with one another. May God bless you.
Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, by Massimo Stanzione, c. 1634, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado. [Public Domain]