Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11 / 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 / John 1:6-8, 19-28
In the gospel today, John is in the desert proclaiming that the day of salvation is at hand. A group is sent out to ask him: “Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet? Who are you?” In answering all those questions, John does not tell us who he is. But he succeeds in telling us who Christ is.
The question before us today is: what does it mean to look for the Messiah in 2020? What is the purpose of our celebration of Advent this year? We are people who are afraid of the darkness. We have entered the time of year when darkness threatens to take over the light. Our wasteland, our desert, is not sand-covered, but it is barren at this time of the year nonetheless. And what is our response to this situation? We decorate our houses with brightly colored lights that mock the darkness. We build fires and sit around fireplaces that take the chill out of our bones. In the midst of all that, Advent gives us a message of hope and promise. Jesus, who is truly the light of the world and a light that can warm the coldest heart, has come and the vision of Isaiah of a desert in bloom is a reality. Look around you. Do you see people busy performing acts of kindness with no thought or expectation of reward or reciprocation? Do you see children being the focus of our efforts and being valued for the treasure they are? Do you see the poor and strangers being made to feel welcome? My friends, those are signs of the spirit of Jesus, the Messiah, present and at work in our community.
Like John, we are called to be signposts that point to the Messiah in our day. We do that by taking up the job description presented in Isaiah 61: to feed the hungry, to comfort those who mourn, to bring glad tidings to those who are down and out. Each day we are given opportunities to do just that. Just as important, we are called to be people of peace. If I am to be at peace this Advent season, I need to heal the divisions I may have caused. And I need to give the gift of forgiveness to others for any pain they may have caused me. Now is the time of reconciliation.
So, be a voice crying in the wilderness that justice and peace are not just ideals to be easily dismissed. Be a sign that the spirit of Christ is alive by making room in your heart for peace and good will toward all people.
– Fr. Larry Snyder is the Vice President for Mission at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Catholic Rural Life.