The Third Sunday of Advent: A Voice Crying the Wilderness

Saint John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti, ca., 1665 (

Do not despise the words of Prophets…hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess. 5:17). ⧾

Again on this third Sunday of Advent we listen to the words of St. John the Baptist who in the Liturgy of Advent bears witness to the Messiah through his call to repentance and his own self-abasement before the Messiah: ‘Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal’. John is effective in his witness because of his humility and self-effacement before the Messiah, Who Himself is meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29). John the Baptist is set before us as a model for our own Christian commitment and proclamation, individually and collectively, and no less so liturgically; for it is in the sacred liturgy that Christ is both proclaimed and received.  We ought to be humble before God for He hears the prayers of the humble. In the celebration of Holy Mass our expressions of humility in God’s presence make us attentive to the proclamation of the Gospel of Salvation and they help us to know our place in the grand scheme of things. Humility in worship ensures that the Mass does not become entertainment and is always both the feast of faith and the school of faith.

Christianity is a religion principally and fundamentally concerned with adoring, loving and serving the one true God; and it is in this that our salvation and the very content of love of neighbour consist. Christianity is inherently bound with sacrifice and sacrament; and through these we profess our faith in God and give ourselves to Him in love. The liturgy of the Church is the true worship of the true God; and through our worship we seek union with God. Our efforts to worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:23) engage us in a lifelong endeavour to achieve integrity of life and the utmost fidelity to the commandment to love God and neighbour. Apart from this way of life, a life centred on the worship of God especially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there is error, folly, despair and destruction – the whole history of fallen mankind which the Lamb of God came to rescue. Our need for the salvation that God brings is no less real in our day, perhaps especially in our day, as we come to the end of a year like no other in living memory. Who and what will deliver us from the deceptions and fear and from the restrictions imposed on us, if not the word of truth, the gospel (Col. 1:5)? God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 5:9). 

 The words of the Prophet Isaiah whose prophecies we read especially during Advent surely speak to us: Say to the faint of heart: Be strong and do not fear. Behold, our God will come, and he will save us (Is. 35:4). Yes, God will save us now from the evil that surrounds us. St. John Henry Newman observed: Some persons speak of Christianity as it were a thing of history, with only indirect bearing on modern times; I cannot allow that it is a mere historical religion. Certainly it has its foundations in past and glorious memories but its power is in the present. It is no dreary matter of antiquarianism; we do not contemplate it in conclusions from dumb documents and dead events, but by faith exercised in ever-living objects, and by the appropriation and use of ever-recurring gifts. This is worth pondering since during the holy Season of Advent we are especially attentive to the proclamation of the prophets and return as it were, to the very origins of our faith both in recalling the ancient prophecies and in celebrating their fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour.

Though we tend to associate prophecy with the future, the foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the prophetic office. The great task of the prophets was to correct moral and religious abuses, and to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of His rule or law. In this sense the prophetic texts are no less relevant to us. The power of the prophetic word is in the present. It is with this in the very forefront of our minds that we recall the ancient prophecies and bring these sacred words to bear on our life today. This is what it means to listen to them with faith exercised in ever-living objects, and what is meant by the appropriation and use of ever-recurring gifts. We engage the present realities that impact our lives and the world at large with the knowledge and power that God’s grace guarantees us. Our life of faith is no dreary matter of antiquarianism. We are not simply indulging is a past that has little to say to us. Those who would reduce our faith to such a caricature have no understanding of the reality of grace and the dynamic power and relevance of Sacred Tradition. This is why it is not an exaggeration to say that our future is in tradition. Only a modernist is incapable or perhaps unwilling to understand the truth of this affirmation.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near (Introit). On this Gaudete Sunday the Church bids us to be mindful of the Lord’s nearness and for this reason, not to give in to any form of despair, even if our situation may seem sad and indeed unprecedented. The prospect of a Christmas bereft of Christ’s Mass – this after all is where the word comes from – is not something we wish to consider but it may be a defining factor of our Christmas observance this year. For us who know and believe that the word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), this deprivation will cause us to long all the more for the gift of the Eucharist, to rejoice and give thanks when it is at last restored, and perhaps most importantly to experience the gift of salvation in an altogether novel way. This year, we may have to be content with simply reading the texts of the Christmas Mass in our homes with our families and friends but at their hearing we will experience something of the longing expressed in these words of the prophet Isaiah: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned (Is. 9:2). Christ the light of the world has come in history and He will come again in glory; and [then] the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it (Is. 40:15).

John the Baptist was a man sent from God…He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light (Jn. 1:6-8).  In addressing us, His disciples as the light of the world (Mt. 5:14), Our Lord expects us also to bear witness to His truth, love and light in our world today for while it is true that our faith has its foundations in past and glorious memories, …its power is in the present. May our prayer, and the encouragement we receive from one another’s witness help us to hold fast to what is good, [and] abstain from every form of evil; that we may be kept sound and blameless at the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ  (1 Thess. 5:17-18). ⧾