Fourth Sunday in Advent
The Gospel. St. John 1.2.
This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confesses, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am Not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? That we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said by the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered the, saying, I baptize with water: but there standest one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s’ lachet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
I had such grand plans for a rousing whopper of a sermon today. I wanted to give you one really memorable discourse on Advent, or John the Baptist, or on the coming of Christ. Then I thought, who am I kidding?
You see, I was thinking that my motivation for this sermon was fine; I wanted to give you all something good, something that you might find humorous, thought-provoking, maybe even inspirational. And then I realized that I had fallen into that old trap of pride. Because, as I may have alluded to you all before; it’s not about me.
This is the second week in a row where our Missal proper’s give us a Gospel story about St. John the Baptist. It occurs to me that more attention is paid to Jesus cousin during the Advent season than at any other time in the Church year. On the face of it, this might not seem odd since, as we all know, John the Baptist was God’s Herald; the forerunner of Christ; the one who preached repentance in preparation for the coming of the Savior.
But at the same time, the Gospel readings for the Third and Fourth Sundays in Advent appear to be attempting to put John in his place. Last week, we heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus tells us straight up that John the Baptist is not only a prophet, but MORE than a prophet , who was foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. This week, we have the Baptist himself humbly confessing that he’s just a guy trying to get us all ready for the coming of Our Lord. And make no bones about it, he is NOT the Christ! This brings me back to my motivation for this sermon;
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. Oh, I’m not trying to liken myself to St. John the Baptist. Or maybe I am. Or at least, maybe I should be. Let’s take a look at John and how he describes himself. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness”. Now, we know that John did in fact spend time in the wilderness; eating wild honey and locust, wearing animal skins and all that. But his living conditions were not what John was talking about when he calls himself “The voice of one crying in the wilderness”.
You see, John has given this description in response to the question; “who are you”? The questioners, these representatives of the Pharisees in Jerusalem, are looking for John to make some grand proclamation about himself. They expect that he will claim to be the prophet Elijah. Or perhaps he will be the prophet who will come ahead of the chosen one, the one who will free Israel from bondage. Maybe he will even declare that he himself is the Messiah.
But John lays claim to none of this. Instead, he gives them this; I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. John is telling them; “who I am is of no consequence. What I am telling you is all that matters”. “Make straight the way of the Lord”.
Here I had been trying to suss out the reason why we had Gospel lessons that included John the Baptist two weeks in a row. Last week, we heard Jesus telling us who John was. This week, it’s John himself. I was thinking that I needed to preach something about the significance of John the Baptist. And he’s telling us, “it doesn’t matter who I am. Listen to what I’m preaching to you”!
Interestingly enough, John the Baptist was of a priestly family, remember that? As soon as I did, it hit me; it’s not about me; “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness”. It’s about what I say; “make straight the way of the Lord”.
Once I realized this, this sermon came a bit easier. I’ve think I’ve explained to you all before how we priests strive to suppress our personalities and egos when we come to say Mass. The same should be true when we preach the Gospel. When a Catholic priest says Mass, he stands in the place of Christ, offering the Holy Sacrifice. When we preach a sermon, we do so with the authority bestowed upon us by the Bishop, an authority passed on from Christ himself. We cannot allow our wants and desires and personalities to stand in the way of being God’s instrument here on earth.
In just a few short days, we will celebrate the Birth of Christ, the Incarnation of God. Why did he do this? Why did God see fit to take on a human existence? We have our answer, of course, in the Gospel, “so God loved the world…”. Yes, Ironically, it was about us. God didn’t need to come to us. But we needed it. God came to us in all humility, taking on human form, suffering through the pains of human existence, and ultimately sacrificing Himself for us. How can we not therefore, likewise be humbled at this thought? How can we allow our personal wants and desires to dominate our lives? As we contemplate the coming Incarnation of God for our sakes, how can we not, as a result, put aside our earthly desires and realize that all we really should want will be satisfied and has been satisfied simply by the Birth of Christ?
John the Baptist likely knew that his time on earth was limited. At least, that would help explain in part his exuberance when he preached. But he always stayed on message; he always knew what the end result was going to be. And he always knew that he had a role in God’s greater plan. He knew that in comparison to the Salvation that comes to man through the Incarnation of God, little ol’ John the Baptist, the man, was not very significant.
It’s the same with us. We know that we have some part in God’s plan, though we don’t always know what that is. And we know that what we want or desire is insignificant in comparison.
And so the message I want to send you away with today, is that example of John the Baptist. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness”. It’s not about us. It’s not about what we want. “make straight the way of the Lord”. It’s about the Gospel we proclaim. It’s about the coming of Christ. It’s about the Salvation that he brings. And it’s about all of us being humble enough to be willing to be used as part of God’s plan.
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord