BEARING WITNESS TO THE MESSIAH
SUNDAY, THIRD WEEK OF ADVENT
Reading 1: Is 61:1-2, 10-11 The writer declares that he has been anointed by God and sent to bring good news to the poor. Jesus used this passage to announce the programme of his own ministry.
Reading 2: 1 Thess 5:16-24 St. Paul tells the Thessalonians how they ought to live as they wait for the second coming of Christ.
Gospel: Jn 1:6-8, 19-28 John the Baptist makes it clear that he is not the Saviour. His task is a humbler one – to prepare the way for the Saviour who is already among the people, though they do not recognise him.
The Gospel of John gives us greater insight among all the Gospel narrations, into the relationship of John the Baptist and Jesus. Today the focus is on John’s role as the primary witness to Jesus, the Messiah. The opening verses of the Gospel bear witness to the uniqueness of Jesus’ identity. Jesus is God and Jesus is the Word. These identities are inseparable, and the Baptist is the first human witness to this unique relationship of the Father and the Son.
In the gospel passage, we see that it is not by chance that he plays his role as the first one to identify Jesus as the Son of God; God has chosen John and commissioned his role as a witness to Jesus. John’s witness transcends all of time as he bears witness to the light that has come into a darkened world. John came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. John’s role as witness and Jesus’ role as light are inseparable.
When asked about his identity, John replied that he was not the Messiah, or a prophet announcing the Messiah, or one such as Elijah or Moses. Rather, John identifies himself as the prophetic voice of one such as the figure of Isaiah, whose role in the sixth century before Christ announced the return of God’s people from their years of captivity in Babylon. John’s role is to make straight the way to the one who comes as the Messiah, and he does this through his identity in the role given him by God. He is simply the witness to the one whom God has sent.
John bears witness to the baptism event of Jesus in this way: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him but the one who sent to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God”. These verses are very important in filling out the portrait of John and his role. What we begin to see is that the figure of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John plays a unique role. Here John the Baptist is not identified as the forerunner of the Messiah, but he is portrayed as the primary witness to Jesus as he looks back on his relationship to Jesus. John is the first person in this gospel to bear witness and confess that Jesus is “the Son of God”. This confession is heard from a human witness at the end of the Gospel of Mark by the centurion standing at the foot of the cross as Jesus breathes his last: “Truly this man was God’s Son”.
The role of John the Baptist continues to unfold in the Gospel of John. It is always clear that John’s role is of being the primary witness to Jesus. John is identified as “the friend of the bridegroom” who rejoices in the presence of the bridegroom and announces, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. Jesus identifies the role of John thus: “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light”. Finally, many who beheld John’s ministry of witnessing to the Messiah, offer their highest commendation of his God-given role: “John performed no sign, but everything he said about Jesus was true”.
On this third Sunday of Advent, we have a unique opportunity to identify the role that all persons of faith are called to by God. Each one of us who has heard the words of this text has seen the importance of John’s witness to Jesus. Like John, God commissions us to bear witness to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one who has come in the flesh, the one who is here with us, and the one who will come again to reign as Lord of all. And God will bring us peace.
Res. Psalm: Lk 1:46-50,53-54 My soul shall exult in my God.
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