The Third Sunday of Advent [C]
Zephaniah 3:14-18 + Philippians 4:4-7 + Luke 3:10-18
December 12, 2021
“Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”
If there’s one word that sums up the Lord’s coming—both 2000 years ago as He came to Mary, and this year as He wishes to come to you—that one word would likely be “expectation”. The word “expectation” connotes both waiting and hopefulness. As an example, think of children during December who write out their wish lists with the expectation of a visit from Saint Nicholas. However, in English the word “expecting” is also related to the experience of pregnancy, which of course in the person of Mary lies at the heart of Advent.
Yet in today’s Gospel passage, there’s a heightened sense of expectation. Think of children at the beginning of December expecting St. Nicholas’ visit, and then think of those same children on Christmas Eve, with their expectation brimming over. The latter is the sense of expectation that the evangelist evokes in today’s Gospel passage, telling us that “the people” were not just in expectation of “the Christ”, but in fact “were filled with expectation”.
Then, however, the other shoe drops. The evangelist explains that the people “were asking in their hearts whether John [the Baptist] might be the Christ.” This is bittersweet, since we know that the expectation of the people is misplaced.
Here, though, is a spiritual lesson for us. The evangelist wants us to profit from the mistake of those who mistook John for the Christ. Even though you and I know that John the Baptist was not the Christ that the people in today’s Gospel passage were hoping for, we’re not off the hook.
More often than we like to admit, we act like the people in today’s Gospel passage. We look for Christ in all the wrong places. Furthermore, without an authentic encounter with Christ, we end up looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
Consider some of the wrong-headed ways that fallen human beings look for happiness in life. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his summary of theology, explores the more common ways that man falsely seeks lasting happiness in this world. He names eight, the first four of which are specific goods: wealth, honor, fame, and power. While each of these certainly can be good, and can be stepping stones to true happiness, it’s vain to search for lasting happiness in things such as wealth, honor, fame, and power.
Here’s another way to contrast the difference between authentic and false sources of happiness. All you have to do is reflect on your pet dog Fido. Fido has some base understanding of the value of food and drink and shelter. Fido might also appreciate a vehicle: not only because it saves him from getting tired, but also because he loves to stick his head out the window into the breeze. It’s true that Fido might have a harder time understanding the value of clothing, although if you took him with you on vacation to Alaska in January, he probably would appreciate that doggie sweater that you got him for Christmas.
But Fido cannot understand coins or bills or stock certificates having any value. He would only understand that there’s value in the food or whatever else you purchase with money. Fido is more sane than fallen man. Maybe that’s why the dog is man’s best friend: because he keeps us grounded in what is real.
Fido can keep us from looking up at what we should look down upon. Unfortunately, Fido cannot help us look up to what we ought to look up at. Fido can help us from having false gods, but he cannot help us find the true God.
In the end, just like Johnny Lee, fallen man spends a lot of time looking for love in all the wrong places, and in too many faces. There’s only one Face in which fallen man can find abiding happiness, and that’s in the Divine Face of Jesus.
Picture Mary after she gives birth to Jesus. She looks at the Face of her newborn Son. As she looks at Him, Mary knows what is truly important in life. She encounters Jesus as she gazes at Him, and commits herself to Him. That’s the sort of focus and priority that each of us can strengthen inside our hearts, minds, and souls by celebrating the rest of Advent and Christmastide with joy and faith.