The Third Sunday of Advent [C]
Zeph 3:14-18 + Phil 4:4-7 + Lk 3:10-18
December 16, 2018
“Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”
“[T]he people were filled with expectation,” but what exactly were they expecting?
Every December as my sisters, brother and I were growing up, a large part of our joy came from the presents that would appear under our Christmas tree throughout the course of the month. Naturally, most of the Christmas presents were delivered by Saint Nicholas in the earliest hours of December 25th. But a fair number simply appeared throughout the course of December, remaining wrapped until Christmas morning.
Each wrapped present became an object of speculation and curiosity, and over the course of the month, we developed a theory about each. Part of the excitement of Christmas morning was seeing if each present was what we were expecting. Sometimes we were disappointed when one of our theories was wrong. But sometimes we were surprised by a gift even greater than our expectation.
In the days before Jesus began His public ministry, “the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” But what was it that they expected this “Christ” to be? For many hundreds of years the Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah—the Christ—to come. As you know from hearing the New Testament, in the days of John and Jesus, there were many groups within Judaism (Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes, Essenes, and so on). Each group had clues in the Hebrew Scriptures about the Messiah who was to come, but each group had a different theory about what the Messiah would look like and set out to accomplish.
Unfortunately, these groups’ differences mirrored a sad truth about our fallen human nature. We tend to project our own desires onto God, and imagine that God is like Santa Claus, who brings us everything on our wish list, as long as we remain on his “good” list. However, as we grow in life, we learn that there’s one very important difference between God and Santa Claus.
Unfortunately, knowing this difference doesn’t always change how we pray. In our fallen human nature, we tend to pray for what we want, instead of for what God wants. We pray hoping that God will change His will to align with ours, instead of praying for the humility to allow the opposite to occur.
When John the Baptist appeared on the scene, he accomplished a profound change in many Israelites regarding their spiritual expectations about the Messiah. He moved the hearts and minds of many from their own wills to God’s Will. John accomplished this in two ways: he preached repentance, and he administered a baptism of repentance. He was all about repentance, in both word and deed. Yet while you wouldn’t think repentance to be a crowd-pleasing topic, the crowds flocked to John.
“Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” The combination of John’s natural charisma and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit worked together to move these crowds to a more pure desire. Even then, however, these crowds were wrong on one very important point.
The Israelites in today’s Gospel passage, in coming to John the Baptist, have moved closer to the truth. But they have not yet found the Truth in person. He is still to come. He will come to bring God’s own divine Self to all mankind. But the grace of God’s divine life can only enter hearts and minds that have been opened by means of penitence, for the divine work of self-sacrifice.