December 13, 2020; John 1: 6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11;
Third Sunday of Advent
One of my favorite quotes comes from an old movie called Steel Magnolias. In it Bette Midler plays an outgoing, aggressive character who is always seeking to be the center of attention. In one scene in the midst of an intense conversation with another character she stops and says, “Enough of me talking about me. What do you want to say about me?”
We all have the temptation to focus on ourselves, to make everything about me. We spend our lives concerned about my family, my job, my friends. We get caught up in my plans and my dreams. It is easy to become stuck on my mistakes, my losses, my pain. Now, of course, we do need to pay attention to ourselves and meet our responsibilities. But living a life focused on me, if nothing else, keeps our world rather small.
This is why we need the witness of John the Baptist, because John’s life and mission were not about him. When the priests and Levites in today’s gospel ask him, “Who are you?” He admits that he is not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet. He is a voice crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” So, John’s role was not to point to himself, but to point to one who is greater and whose mission is larger. What John wants us to understand is that if we wish to follow Christ, we have to allow Christ to stretch us, to enlarge us, to refocus us on a vision that is bigger than me and my concerns?
What is that vision that Jesus has in mind? You can find it today in today’s first reading from Isaiah which Jesus uses it to describe his own ministry. He says that he has come to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord. This is what Jesus’ ministry is about, and he wants us to be a part of it. That is why Jesus keeps stretching us, so that our concern is not just about our own families but about the families of the poor. This why Jesus keeps trying to enlarge our vision, so that we are not just caught up in our own personal dreams but are able to identify with the dreams of prisoners and those who are held captive by hate and prejudice. Now, accepting this vision of Jesus is not easy. It requires that we appraise ourselves of the factors in our society that are the cause of poverty and discern what are we called to do to help reduce the impact that poverty has on so many. It calls us to have the courage to enter into the debate in our country about racism and understand how this evil continues to hold back so many Americans from the freedom our country promises.
Fundamental to Jesus’ larger vision is the conviction that we are all connected to one another, that the joys of any person are my joys too, that the need and pain of any person are also my concern. This is why Jesus keeps stretching us to recognize our connection to the least among us. This why every Christian needs to learn that it’s not about me. It’s about us.