The Third Sunday of Advent [B]
Isa 61:1-2,10-11 + 1 Thes 5:16-24 + Jn 1:6-8,19-28
December 17, 2017
He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
If we had to sum up John the Baptist in one word, that word would be “witness”. Our translation of today’s Gospel passage uses a slightly different range of words: “testimony” and “testify”. But what do you call a person who testifies, or gives testimony: is “testifier” a word? The word “witness” sums up John the Baptist because you can use this same word in three different ways, to describe: (1) who he is; (2) what he does; and (3) what he gives.
To give witness authentically, two things have to be true. You have to know what you’re talking about, and you have to talk truthfully.
On the one hand, the witness that you’re going to offer, you have to know to be true. To be an effective witness in a court of law, you need to have actively witnessed the events in question: you need to have seen what happened, in what sequence the events happened, and how they happened. Of course, even if you do know the truth about what happened, you have to be willing to testify, and to do so truthfully.
Imagine, for example, that you were standing on a street corner, and saw an accident between two vehicles. You saw clearly that it was the fault of the first vehicle. But then the drivers get out, and you notice that the driver of the first vehicle is your grandmother. Suddenly, the police pull up. Do you go to the scene of the accident? Or do you turn away, so that you won’t be called to give witness? What motivates us to give witness, or not to give witness?
Yet John the Baptist was not called to give witness about an event. Neither are we in terms of living our Christian faith. John the Baptist was called to give witness about a person: the person of Jesus Christ. There’s an important difference between knowing facts about a person—such as his date of birth, height, or favorite color—and knowing the person personally. To know a person personally means to have a relationship with that person.
The devil knows far more facts about Jesus than you or I are ever likely to know. After all, the devil, like all angels, is a creature of great intelligence. But to know Jesus personally, as His disciple, means to recognize Him for who He says He is: the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Lord and meaning of our world. The devil will never choose to know Him in those ways.
But to know Jesus personally isn’t enough to give witness to Jesus. Remember John the Baptist. For him to give authentic witness about Jesus, the second thing that had to be true was that John had to talk truthfully. We might think that’s easy.
However, lying about Jesus is not the greater temptation. Because “to talk truthfully” has two opposites. That is, there are two ways not to talk truthfully. The first is to talk falsely. The second is not to talk, period.
When was the last time that you said to someone at a party, “Jesus means more to me than any other person in my life”? When was the last time that you told someone at the grocery store that the teachings of Jesus offer the greatest possible happiness to every person in our world? When was the last time that you asked someone on your block if they believed in Jesus? Is it wrong to do these things?
It is certainly culturally wrong. The culture that surrounds us vilifies and ridicules those who bring their relationships with Jesus to bear on other relationships in their lives. The culture that surrounds us reduces the meaning of loving Jesus to an interior, subjective feeling, rather than a communal, objective truth that is meant to grow and expand. Jesus was born into this world to be, for all human beings, their Way, Truth, and Life. God calls us, as He called John the Baptist, to give others joyful, truthful witness about the difference that Jesus makes in human life, and to invite them into relationship with Him.