Scripture for the third Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24; John 1:6–8, 19–28
John the Baptist appears in John’s gospel in a rather more complex manner than in (for example) Mark’s gospel.
John is certainly a prophetic figure in some ways, proclaiming a current reality and the consequences of unchanged action. But he is a self-denying, self-professed precursor of another, the one who brings hope, salvation and joy, all wrapped in God’s love.
John preaches repentance, turning around, in general terms, but also confronts the people of Israel with their smug self-righteousness, assumed simply because they are a chosen people.
Christians are prone to something similar, but in our case we compound matters with judgement and comparison. The judgement is God’s territory, and the comparisons are (to quote a proverb) odious.
While it is evident that there are degrees of human sinfulness, we often amplify differences – and God sees us from a different perspective. The light of Christ illuminates us more clearly.
John the Baptist, who accepts in true humility the role of understudy, comes to testify to the light – Jesus – with the understanding that he is not the light, simply a precursor. Neither are we the light. We are like lamps that carry the light, but if we start to assume that it is ours, we become lost in our own hubris. Nevertheless, we are called to be carriers of that light, helping it to shine in the dark places of the world; with God’s help, we can spread the light where it needs to be shone.