CNS file photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

Light shines forth even amid the darkness

  • December 4, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B) Dec. 14 (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28)

What would good news sound like in our world? A steady diet of negativity reported by the news media can leave one feeling depressed, fearful, hopeless and helpless. Often people turn to pain-numbing diversions of every variety to escape the darkness and confusion around them.

The people of Israel in the sixth century B.C. felt the same way — there was not very much to rejoice about. They had begun the journey back to Judea where their hopes were soon dashed. Jerusalem and its temple were in ruins and the nation was only a shadow of its former self. Isaiah — or one writing in his name — felt the Spirit of the Lord upon him, anointing or missioning him for a particular purpose: to bear good news to those who were oppressed. He was also to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners.

Giving comfort, hope and encouragement is what God and God’s emissaries consistently do for us. Isaiah let the people know that they were not forgotten, that God was aware of their suffering and felt their pain, and that a new life for the nation was on the horizon.

It is this passage that Jesus read in the synagogue in Luke 4, proclaiming that it was fulfilled in him. But the promised good news was not a quick fix. Much misery remained, even as it does today.

In what sense, then, is it good news? What sort of good news could be given to oppressed people? This question is particularly poignant today.

There have been so many disappointments, and the giddiness of new freedom is often shoved aside by reality as the old constricting, oppressive and unjust patterns reassert their dominion. Again, the message is that God knows, God cares and God has far greater plans for us than we can imagine.

If we experience oppression, it is not because God wills it and we do not have to be resigned to our fate. God stands behind and alongside every person or group that labours for justice, healing, reconciliation, equality and compassionate action. Like the seeds sown in the garden in the reading, God causes hope and new life to spring up and send forth shoots.

We need only look around. Light shines forth in so many places even in the midst of darkness. So many labour quietly to make the world a better place and to alleviate the pain and burdens of others. We are free — the only problem is that many people do not realize it.

Paul points out that we join with God in this holy undertaking by becoming one with God in mind and heart. Praying without ceasing is not as difficult as it sounds. Prayer can be a wordless state of mind and heart, a way of viewing the world and dealing with everyday challenges. A prayerful heart unites us with God so that God can work through us.

Paul also warns us not to quench the Spirit, which is often a response of fear and the desire to control everything. The Spirit brings freedom, while fear and control perpetuate oppression and the lack of freedom. We can choose only one, not both.

John the Baptist was not the light in the truest sense of the word, even though he was certainly a holy and upright man. The evangelist went to great lengths to make it clear that John played a supporting role. John was more than content with that role; in fact, he was intent on “decreasing” and leaving the stage as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene.

The Word made flesh was the protagonist in this cosmic drama. John was interrogated by a delegation from the religious authorities in Jerusalem. He denied being the Messiah, Elijah, one of the prophets or any of the familiar figures in Israel’s salvation history. He identified himself only by his function: to prepare the way and to witness to the true light.

He knew that knowing God personally was freedom and good news in the deepest sense. The approaching Light had already set John’s heart and soul on fire, and he longed to kindle that blaze in others.

In a sense, that is what it means to be a true follower of Jesus.