Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)
Is. 61:1-2,10-11; 1Thess 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8,19-28
The story is told about a young man coming out from the Mass in a Church one day. The priest pulled him aside and said: “My child, you need to join the army of the Lord!” the young man answered. “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Father.”
“How come I don’t see you except at Christmas and at Easter?” the priest asked. “I’m in the Secret Service, Father,” he whispered in reply.
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord: His coming to us sacramentally at Christmas, His coming to us individually at the end of our lives and His coming to us collectively at the end of time. That is why in the First Sunday of Advent, we talked about preparation by being watchful because we do not know when Christ will come again. In other words, the key word was the word W-A-T-C-H. Let us watch our Words, Actions, Thoughts, Character and Heart. In the Second Sunday, we also talked about how to prepare and be watchful and that is preparing the way of the Lord by way of repentance. And today’s Third Sunday of Advent let us talk about Christ’s Coming.
Now suppose we are told that the Christ whom we are waiting to come is already here in our midst as one of us because Saint John says in today’s gospel: “…..but 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,” (vv. 26-27), what is the difference will that make to us?
Here is the story of the enormous difference that the awareness of the presence of Christ among us could make in our lives as individuals and as communities.
A certain monastery discovered that it was going through a crisis. Some of the monks left, no new candidates joined them, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old and depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. The abbot heard about a holy man, a hermit living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.
With this revelation the abbot goes back to his monastery, summons a community meeting and recounts what the holy hermit told him that one of them is the Messiah. The aging monks look at each other in unbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude towards others. Could it be Brother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and drinking and cannot fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah has adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging his real identity this only made them more confused and they could not make a headway figuring out who was the Christ among them. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, excepting himself, could be the Christ.
From that day, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the very Christ. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual directions. Word began to spread and, before they knew it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.
The reason why, nowadays, we could not recognize Jesus as our Lord and Messiah, it is because like the Jews in Jesus’ time, we have definite ideas on how the Messiah was going to come. For the Jews, Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in his divine power and majesty and establish His destroying by destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where he came from, humanly speaking, because he came from God (John 7:27). So when finally Jesus came, born of a woman like every other person, they could not recognize Him. He was too ordinary and too unimpressive.
In our case, when we celebrate Christmas too it seems that we celebrate Christmas without Christ. What pervades more is the spirit of commercialism that robs away the real meaning of Christmas. It is like when we celebrate the feast of a saint. Many would say that fiesta is dry and boring because there is no disco, no cockfighting and no beauty and miss gay contests. What happen now when we celebrate Christmas is, instead of ringing the bell in the Church, what we hear is the merry ringing of cash at shopping centers. When we sing Christmas songs what we sing is: “Rudolf, the Red-nosed reindeer,” “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus,” “Pasko na Sinta ko,” and many more. Instead of greeting “Merry Christmas,” to somebody, we greet, “Happy holidays.” Instead of saying, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we say, “Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”
Instead of writing the whole word, ‘Christmas,’ we write ‘X-mas.’ But actually, for the English-speaking world, X is simply the twenty-fourth letter of the alphabet and for the Greeks, this stands for “Chi,” the first letter in the name “Christos,” the Messiah. Through the years it has been an acceptable abbreviation for Christ. To backtrack a moment, I am less than accurate when I say that “X” to us is only a letter of the alphabet. Any math student would happily correct me. In algebra, it represents an unknown: 2+3=X…3×3=X. But in Christianity X represents someone we do know.
As Christians, actually, we may recognize the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Eucharist and other Sacraments, in Word and many more. We may also recognize Him in our fellow human being especially among the poor, the marginalized, those who have no voice in the society for whom Jesus said: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you did this to me,” (Matt 25:40).