3 Advent December 17, 2017 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 61, 1-2, 10-11 + Psalm (Luke 1, 46-54) + 1 Thessalonians 5, 16-24 + John 1, 6-8, 19-28
From the first chapter till the last, the question: “Who are you?” is raised again and again in John’s Gospel. It starts with John the Baptist as we heard today. It is very dramatically asked again of Jesus by Pilate, and finally in the last chapter John tells us that none of the disciples “dared to ask that question” about a man on the shore who told them where to fish and bring in a great catch. In that 21st and last Chapter it simply says: “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
While John’s Gospel is focused on the identity of Jesus as the Word Made Flesh, it also initiates a quest for the identity of his disciples. “Who are you?” is a question this living Word addresses to each of us in this assembly. The disciples came to know the Lord by spending time with him, by listening to his words, by watching what he did, and finally in that 21st chapter, by doing what he asked. This is the formula unfolded for us in John’s Gospel, and following that formula will eventually reveal who we are.
I find it interesting to notice that when introducing one’s self to a stranger in a crowd of people, just after asking one’s name, the next question is almost always, “What do you do?” It’s as though our name is not enough to establish our identity, and of course, it isn’t enough. So, we ask more because what someone does (their behavior) usually tells us more about them than what they are called. If I were to ask you to name the Apostles, most of you would stumble through eight or fifteen names which is not very important since the Gospels themselves do not agree on all the names. But, if I asked you what an Apostles does, we could get somewhere.
As we move through the last half of Advent, the church suggests that it is time to raise the question: “Who are you?” More than that however, it might well be time for us to provide an answer. John did so by calling attention to what he did not for the sake of any praise or admiration; but for the sake of expressing his relationship to Christ. The challenge then for us in answering that question is to determine whether or not what we do expresses in any way our relationship to Christ Jesus. What we do says just about everything about who we are, and it reveals who we serve and what really matters to us.
In place of a Psalm text today, familiar verses of Luke’s Gospel were sung. They are the words that Luke places on the lips of a young maiden in Nazareth who has just discovered who she is, a favored one for whom the Almighty has done great things. The consequences of acknowledging and recognizing who she is results in great joy, a joy that is almost contagious for those who read and pray those words. In the world of our times, joy easily slips away replaced by sadness and fear. So many innocent people suffer so greatly at the hands of others. Neglect, denial, racism, break apart the family that has been taught to call God, “Father”. At the root of it all is the fact that we have failed to ask the question: “Who are you?” We fail to acknowledge that every one of us is a child of God and a member of our one family as brother and sister. I always imagine that our human experience of Joy is really a reflection of Divine Joy, or Divine Delight. If there is too little Joy these days, it may well mean that God’s joy is less because of what we do and what we fail to do.
As the Church calls us to Joy this day, it is not a call to act or to be happy. It is a call to examine carefully how we live together and what we do shaping who we are. In the end, we are God’s children and therefore one with each other. When one of us is hurting, we all hurt, and so does God. When one of us is a victim of violence or injustice, we are all victims as well just as Jesus Christ was a victim of violence. When one of us becomes aware of the fact that we are chosen, beloved, and gifted by God to give flesh to God’s only Son, we can all rejoice again living with hope and with confidence that God has come to the help of his servant and remembered his promise of mercy.