The Third Sunday of Advent

Is 61:1-2 & 10-11; 1 Thess 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8 & 19-28 (Year B)

The prophet Isaiah perfectly captured the joyful expectation that fills our hearts as Christmas approaches: it was as if a people who had long since abandoned hope, both for themselves and their nation, had been awakened to unimagined possibilities. “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation. For as the earth makes fresh things grow, so will the Lord make both integrity and praise spring up in the sight of the nations.”

A once proud nation had been brought to acknowledge not only that it had sinned in the past, but also that it was incapable of changing itself. Its sole hope was to trust in the Lord’s anointed who would bring good news to the poor. Humble repentance had become the door to forgotten hope.

John’s Gospel takes up this expectation in the figure of John the Baptist. John came from the wilderness, echoing sin’s wilderness. He made no claims for himself, only for the one who was to come. In John the Baptist we see a humility that robs sin of its most powerful illusion.

As sinners we delude ourselves that we can change, that things can only get better, that tomorrow we shall change. Reality persuades us otherwise. John’s hope rested not in himself, but in Christ: “I baptise you with water; but there stands among you, unknown to you, the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal strap.”

John’s baptism of repentance was a cry from the wilderness, from our wilderness. It calls us to the surrender of pride’s self-delusion and the surrender of ourselves to what Christ longs to achieve in us.

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