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Third Sunday of Advent — December 17, 2023

"This Advent, it may help to think of our faith communities as people who hold up mirrors to the world, reflecting the light of Christ we have found." — Tara W. Bulger

John 1:6-8, 19-28
Year B

In William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” we find the tragic love story of two young lovers in Italy. Maybe you remember, as I do, the famous balcony scene or the devastating suicide at the end. But before all of that, before the story even really begins, there is a prologue.

Prologues can serve different functions in a story. Some prologues give a glimpse into the future; some introduce readers to the backstory necessary to understand all that will come after. Some do both. In “Romeo and Juliet,” the prologue gives the history of the long-standing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. The clash between these two families is the foundation upon which the heartbreaking interactions between Romeo and Juliet will take place.

The first three verses from our lectionary text today are also part of a prologue, the prologue to John’s Gospel. John’s prologue, verses 1-18, is both a glimpse of what is to come and a look back at how the world began. Before the author really begins, he summarizes the Christology and theology of this Gospel. We find that true light, the light for which all humanity yearns, is coming into the world and that not all will recognize or receive him.

And it is here in the prologue that we first meet John the Baptist. John is the only other person in John’s Gospel who is sent by God. This divine directive points to the importance of all that John will do. John’s introduction in verses 6-8 also marks a significant turn in the prologue: from what has happened before the world to the present time of human history. John, embedded in current history, has come into the world to be witness to the light. He is not the light, but he exists to point the way toward the light coming into the world, Jesus Christ.

Beginning with verse 19, we find John’s Gospel echoing the story of God’s revelation on Sinai found in Exodus. God tells Moses to go and prepare the people for the revelation of God. For three days, the people prepare. In the same way, John’s Gospel now turns to the events that will lead up to the revelation of the Messiah. This preparation begins with John’s interaction with a delegation from Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem delegation wants answers about who John is and what he is doing. John is clear that he is simply a witness to what will happen. He references Isaiah 40:3 as evidence. John sticks to his purpose when challenged by the religious leaders —he maintains that he is not the Messiah or even a prophet. Instead, he is simply pointing toward Christ and inviting everyone to prepare themselves for the Lord.

This Advent, it may help to think of our faith communities as people who hold up mirrors to the world, reflecting the light of Christ we have found.

This Advent, as we try again to prepare people for the coming of Jesus into their present history, it helps to remember that we are still people who yearn for the light. Our world is so darkened by sin that it can be challenging to hope, and we may find ourselves looking around for even just a bit of light. May we be, like John the Baptist, people who believe and have faith in the light that is in the world and comes again.

In another lifetime, I was a youth director. I can remember giving out tiny mirrors to my youth group kids and inviting them to be like John the Baptist — always reflecting the light of Christ into the world. This Advent, it may help to think of our faith communities as people who hold up mirrors to the world, reflecting the light of Christ we have found. This is the work of all the faithful. We are called to point the way to the light who is always Christ.

Questions for reflection

  1. What darkens our world this holiday season? What is the light you yearn for?
  2. How might you point to the light of Christ this Advent? How might you give others hope?

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