Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B), 2017.
Stir up your power, O Lord—our Collect begins—and with great might come among us. As a bread maker, I find a particular poignancy to those words “Stir up.” When I am preparing to make bread—and this is something that takes about 24 hours as I make bread the old fashioned way—the first thing I do is take yeast culture that lives in our refrigerator, which is called “the mother,” and with a wooden spoon, stir it up. This brings oxygen into the mother, waking it up a little bit. Immediately there is an aroma of yeasty goodness, which is the primary sign that mother is healthy. Now, God is always active, is always awake, so the analogy falls apart pretty quickly. Yet Jesus is the Bread of Life, with a divine power to come among a mother with bountiful grace to transform water, flour, and salt into delicious sourdough loaves—and many more wondrous miracles—so this analogy is not wholly off the mark. This, at least, is the witness of your local sourdough baker.
In the wonders of His love, and in creating new heavens and new earth through the Incarnation of His Son, that there may be rejoicing in Jerusalem, which restores the fortunes of Zion, there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. This is the purpose of John the Baptist’s creation. This is why he was conceived in the mind of God, and this is why he was born: to witness to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and (so it seemed to most everyone around them) son of Joseph the carpenter. God has conceived each one of us in His mind, as well, and in so doing created us with a purpose. Our purpose is to adore God, growing in our ability to adore Him in this life and continuing the journey into the next life, until we adore Him in the ultimate sense: face to face with the Lord God of all creation.
Notice how the people around John inquire into his personality and who he is, asking, “Who are you?” No, I am not the Christ, he says. “Are you Elijah?” I am not, he says. “The prophet?” No. His answers keep getting shorter as his irritation increases. Finally, they ask, “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?” And what does John say about himself? He says very little about himself, but everything about his mission and purpose for existing. Never mind who I am, he implies. It is what I am here to do that is the important thing, the thing I want you to listen to. I am speaking about Christ, so let’s get past the superficialities.
John the Baptizer was a strong man; he was not going to be bound by the fetters of community gossip; he was not going to be put into a box because, through the grace of Christ, John’s mission was new as well. He is the witness to the coming presence of the Lord as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. With strength and courage to love and serve Jesus with gladness and singleness of heart, John was a beacon to reflect the divine light.
And through his voice, to invite men and women to follow not him, but the light that lighteth every man; a light that shines in the darkness; a light that was the Life of every person; a light through whom all things were made, and without that light was not anything made that was made—a light that was in the beginning with God, and light that was God, and is God, and ever will be God.
A light that is the peace of heaven. A light we are invited to witness when we look at each other in the eyes in the exchange of peace. A light that we are to witness in the world; that through us God’s blessings flow, as far as the curse is found, that there may be joy in the world. So rejoice, brothers and sisters, in the Lord. Let your witness be known to all persons. The Lord is at hand: be not troubled, but in all things, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
Let us pray: O Holy and ever blessed Spirit, who did overshadow the Holy Virgin-Mother of our Lord, and caused her to conceive by a miraculous and mysterious manner; be pleased to overshadow our souls, and enlighten our spirits, that we may conceive the holy Jesus in our hearts, and may bear him in our minds, and may grow up to the fullness of the statue of Christ, to be a perfect person in Christ Jesus. Amen.