Anton Raphael Mengs’ St. John the Baptist in the Desert. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: We are called be part of God’s work

  • December 6, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent, Dec.13 (Year B) Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

How do we know when God is present or when God has visited humanity? God always leaves behind unmistakable signs of the divine presence. Most of them can be summed up with the word “freedom” and can be either physical, psychological or spiritual in nature — or all three.

The other signs are easy to spot — hope and joy, and not necessarily for any particular reason. The presence of God is life-giving, healing and restorative. Claims of divine encounter should always be accompanied by at least some of these signs.

Isaiah gave the Israelites a huge shot of hope with promises of divine healing and transformation. They needed it, for they were struggling through some dark times after their return from exile in the mid-sixth century B.C.

These promises sketched out a vision of renewal of the nation and a new way of life. Obviously, many of these negative conditions continue. The promises were meant to give hope and comfort, and to assure the people that God was with them. Jesus read this prophecy in the synagogue in Luke 4:18-19, declaring that the prophecy was fulfilled in Him.

Any friend of God who devotes their life to bringing hope, comfort, healing and freedom to others is anointed by God and is doing God’s work. That brings its own reward: rejoicing and exultation in God, for God’s grace is draped around one’s heart and soul like a heavenly garment.

Isaiah rejoiced and exulted in the Lord for the divine privilege that had been granted to him. These same words resonate with the Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke (1:46-47), where Mary exults in God her Saviour.

Even as we struggle through the darkness of our world, God is at work sowing the seeds of righteousness and praise. We can sit on the sidelines as mere spectators, or we can participate and be part of God’s work.

Paul continued in the same vein as he described how God-filled people live. He exhorted the Thessalonian community to rejoice always and to be continually grateful. He did not mean a saccharine sort of joy that one sometimes sees in religious circles, but something that flows unbidden from within. It is a sign of God’s presence.

He also insisted that they pray without ceasing, an exhortation which occupied the attention of many spiritual writers in the early Church. But how is that possible? Rather than merely mouthing words, he spoke of prayer as a joyful and grateful disposition of the mind and heart and openness to God’s Spirit.

The delegation from Jerusalem was perplexed. They had heard of the preaching of John the Baptist and they had many questions. Most of all, they wanted to know who he claimed to be. They went through the checklist: Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet — all of the prophetic figures one might expect. But the answer was “no” to all of them.

Exasperated, they then put it bluntly: Then who are you, and why are you baptizing, if you aren’t any of these? They wanted an appropriate label so they might know how to categorize and deal with him.

John dodged all of their expectations by identifying himself as the one spoken of in Isaiah 40: the voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord. His mission was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by raising the minds and hearts of the people. Their baptism by water would prepare them to receive one far greater than John.

Before entering into human history, God always sends advance men and women to make it all possible, and their mission is vital. The visitation of God would fall on deaf ears if people were not disposed to recognize God’s presence or hear the divine message.

People like John the Baptist work on the values, attitudes and practices of people, challenging them to have an inner renewal and change of mind and heart. They can plant the seeds for a new way of living by instilling in others an eager anticipation of the gifts that God is ready to bestow.

All are called to the mission of giving hope and helping others yearn for something beautiful and life-giving that is far greater than themselves. Some might struggle to give it a name; we call this God.