First Reading Isaiah 61:1–2, 10–11
Psalm Luke 1:46–50, 53–54
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24
Gospel John 1:6–8, 19–28
Gospel – John 1:6–8, 19–28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. 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.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Hearing the Word
“Testimony to Grace”
Preparation for the Lord’s coming was the theme of the first two Sundays of Advent. The third Sunday of Advent shifts the focus to the appropriate response to the Lord’s promises. A Christian who confidently trusts in them and gives testimony to God’s grace, both experienced and anticipated, experiences the Lord’s presence in a powerful and transforming way. This experience finds its expression in superabundant joy.
In the first reading, Isaiah presents his credentials for the prophetic ministry, writing about the anointing with God’s Spirit he experienced. The Spirit empowered him to carry out his prophetic mission and made him like the “servant of the Lord” described in Isaiah 42:1; 48:16, one who also received the Spirit in order to rescue God’s suffering people from injustice and persecution. The prophet was well and truly aware that his mission consisted of bringing the good news to those on the margins, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. This favour manifests itself through the liberation and restoration of those who had been enslaved and wounded by violence and injustice. The God of Israel desires to restore his people, and he sends his prophet to make this desire known. The words of Isaiah would later be adopted by Jesus himself in the synagogue of Nazareth, where he declared and described his own salvific mission to the world (see Luke 4:18-19).
In the second part of the reading, Isaiah rejoices as he celebrates God’s salvation. His confidence is unwavering as he speaks of it as something that has already occurred and which he personally experienced. He states, “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness”. The “robe of righteousness” symbolizes God’s gratuitous gift to the prophet and the great dignity that came with it. So endowed, the prophet feels like a bridegroom and the bride beautifully adorned. The images of bridegroom and bride evoke the covenant and the great rejoicing of Israel at the prospect of experiencing God’s grace and presence anew. This renewal of the nation in righteousness is beautifully compared to the spring, when the earth bursts forth with fruits and flowers. Such a spring represents the life and fruitfulness which the Israelites so much desired.
The joy of God’s grace and closeness cannot be kept hidden. The prophet experienced it and felt compelled to share it with others, thereby testifying to God’s grace and gracious deeds for his people.
The second reading comes from the conclusion of the first letter to the Thessalonians, where the apostle Paul gives a series of instructions and recommendations on how the newly converted Christians ought to live out their faith. Today’s passage focuses on the prayer life of the community. Using short but stirring phrases Paul calls the community members to “rejoice”, “pray” and “give thanks”, seeing these three forms of worship as “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”.
The Thessalonian Church was very new, and those who joined it experienced great difficulties, including rejection, slander, and harassment by their neighbours and associates. Paul himself had to flee the city because of violent opposition to his teaching and threats against his life. He left his converts behind to face an uncertain future without his presence. However, like a good father, he never ceased to be concerned about them. This led him to exhort the Thessalonians to constancy in prayer using such word as “always”, “without ceasing”, and “in all circumstances”. He also warned against “quenching of the Spirit”. This warning showed his awareness that disheartening life circumstances might negatively affect these new converts to the point of disrupting their prayer life, and hindering the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst.
For this reason, the apostle encouraged the Thessalonians to remain faithful to the prayer of rejoicing, thanksgiving, and praise regardless the circumstances. Such persistence in prayer would prevent adversity from dominating their lives and causing them to lose the hope of salvation. To assure them that the hope they place in Jesus is not misguided, Paul emphasized God’s fidelity stating, “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this”. Reassuring them that God will complete the work of their sanctification, Paul aimed to make them steadfast in giving testimony to God’s grace working in them in every circumstance. Such testimony was a way of manifesting that grace to the world, and of animating their own life of faith.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading continues with last week’s Gospel’s focus on John the Baptist, with the particular attention to his mission of giving testimony to Jesus. God sent John for the specific purpose of testifying to Jesus whom John the evangelist calls “the light” (see John 1:4-5). Light always symbolizes knowledge, insight, and understanding. As the light, Jesus who “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14), came into the world to make God known in his person. John’s mission was to announce Jesus to the world and attest that he came from God with a perfect and credible revelation of God himself (see John 1:7-8).
John was a respected and well-known figure, calling people to repentance and baptizing them. His activities, reputation and integrity made the Jewish leaders responsible for the spiritual life of the nation wonder who this outstanding person was – could he be the long-awaited Messiah? In response to their inquiries, John declared that he is neither “Messiah” nor “Elijah” nor even a prophet. Refusing to be identified with one of the great figures from the Israel’s past, John highlighted that his mission is very particular and his task unique. He proceeded to describe this mission as that of “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness”, one meant to prepare the “the way of the Lord” with his testimony. John spoke the truth about himself as testified to his God-given identity, even though he could have claimed for himself more noble titles of Messiah, or Elijah or a prophet, which is exactly what people expected him to be. He then again spoke the truth testifying that Jesus was the one sent by God; the one whom the people waited and longed for. Doing so, John gave testimony to the grace of God that appeared in their midst. Later in the Gospel, John will say that he “rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s [Jesus] voice” and that his “joy has been fulfilled” (John 3:29) as he witnessed the onset of Jesus’ Messianic mission in the world.
Giving testimony to God’s grace operating in the world is the basic task of any and every believer. Isaiah testified to it when, guided by the Spirit, he rejoiced at the promised renewal of Israel. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray unceasingly with joy and thanksgiving and without quenching the Spirit, despite adversity, hostilities, and ridicule by the surrounding world. John the Baptist was a remarkable person who was not swayed from his mission by the allure of titles and honours. Rather than seek his glory, he testified to the true identity of Jesus and the light of revelation for the world. In Jesus, John recognized and acknowledged God’s grace coming into the world. Testimony to that grace brought him overflowing joy and fulfilment. The same grace filled Mary, who, when testifying to her cousin Elizabeth God’s grace incarnated in her womb, was overwhelmed with joy which led her to exclaim, “my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.
Listening to the Word of God
Today’s liturgy invites a reflection on how we bear testimony to God’s grace. This grace manifests itself in numerous ways. For all believers, the primary manifestation of grace is the adoption as God’s children who receive salvation as a gift, and not because of any of our merits. This offer of adoption and salvation is truly amazing, considering that we have done nothing to deserve it. We can testify to this amazing grace when we realize and acknowledge that all who we are and what we have came to us as a gift. Of ourselves alone, we are nothing and can do nothing (see John 15:5).
God’s grace operates in extraordinary and spectacular ways, but even more often it manifests itself in very ordinary ways in the midst of everyday affairs. The canticles of Mary and Zachariah which are read many times during this Advent season help us to understand the meaning of grace in relation to daily life. Looking closely at the words of these great biblical figures, we discover that the grace implies favour, mercy, and love that God showers on us daily. Both Mary and Zechariah were ordinary people like us. What distinguished them was the depth of faith and unreserved trust in God’s providence and mercy. Then, one ordinary day they experienced God’s grace in unexpected and overwhelming ways.
Many of us pay much attention to the great miracles we hear about from televangelists and preachers whose only purpose is to perform amazing acts and attract paying followers. Yet, does God really work in that way? The Scriptures show us that God works mainly in and through the ordinary situations of our daily life lifting and uplifting us in the seemingly unimportant details of ordinary existence.
We can bear testimony to God’s grace working in our lives if we reflect on every moment of our lives, and make the effort to discern God’s grace and love operating in them. How often do we recognize that getting up in the morning, having a meal or being able to work are all God’s grace? The grace of God also works in nature, in the sunrise and the rain. Do we perceive these as reflections of God’s grace? This list of ordinary reflections of grace goes on and on.
John the Baptist testified to Jesus as the light of the world. He saw God’s grace incarnated in human form and shared his joy with others. As we draw closer to the celebration of Christmas and prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus and to receive grace upon grace, we ought to imitate him in radiating the light and grace that we ourselves have received. By giving testimony to grace, we will be able to uplift others and console the broken-hearted.
All too often, we focus on what we do not have, which depresses us and prevents us from being joyful and generous. As we approach the season of blessing, let us resolve to be generous in sharing our joy that flows from faith in the one who has been so gracious as to share his life with us. Doing so, we will follow St. Paul’s call to “rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances”. We will also, like John the Baptist, become witnesses to God’s grace. If we allow that grace to shine through us by sharing it, we will also become “the light of the world”.
Do I recognize God grace operating in my life? What are the daily graces that I take for granted and overlook?
What is my focus when praying to God and talking to others? Do I focus on the negative experiences in my life or do I acknowledge the positive and the beautiful experiences in it?
Response to God
Over this week, I resolve to pay attention to the daily graces coming in different forms and events and thank God for them.
Response to your World
This week I will express my gratitude for the goodness of the Lord by gifting someone in need with some spiritual or material benefit that I have received.
As a group, we will create a forum where every member will share on how they experienced God’s grace and conclude the gathering with the prayer of thanksgiving.
God Heavenly Father, we praise and glorify your holy name. We recognise your mighty power and graces in our lives, for we know that without you we cannot accomplish anything. We ask you to give us your Spirit so that we may bring good tidings to those who are in need of consolation and hope, so that through us they can experience and be touched by your grace. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.