Third Sunday of Advent
[Liturgical disclaimer: Somehow, early this week, I got St. John’s account of John the Baptist in my head, so my homily was prepared as such. To St. Luke, the proper Evangelist assigned to the Third Sunday of Advent, Year C and to all of you… my apologies. But as they say: This is my homily and I’m sticking to it.]
Third Sunday of Advent
December 16, 2018
It would be strange if five-and-a-half years ago, when I first met you, I would have introduced myself to you as John the Baptist introduced himself to his congregation, I would have left you scratching your heads. “Well, I’m not George Clooney; (or) I’m not Aaron Rogers; (or) I’m not Mother Teresa,” you’d all do a “Hmmm.” But that’s exactly what John the Baptist did when asked, “Who are you?” He answers with a string of nots: I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am not the prophet. I am not the light. (Ok…but…who are you?”)
Yet, in another sense, what we do know about who we are is kind of defined by knowing who we are not. We can only be who we are; trying to be anyone other than who we are can have disastrous effects. I am not George Clooney so don’t put me in front of a camera. I have not Aaron Rogers so don’t put me on Soldiers Field this afternoon. I’m not Mother Teresa so don’t expect me to be a walking, breathing saint.
So, I guess we, like John, we can also be honest enough to say: we are not the Light. We are not able to be who we are not, to do what we cannot. We’d love to prevent all the children in the world from skinned knees and hurt feelings, but we can’t even do that for our own children. We’d love to be the one who single-handedly stops global warming or puts an end to terrorism, but we can’t. We can’t fix poverty or eliminate cancer or eradicate world hunger by ourselves. We are not meant to be who we are not. We are not Jesus, nor are we prophets. And we are certainly not THE Light. And we can take comfort in this reality.
BUT—and this is a big BUT…BUT John knew he was called “to testify to the light.” So lest we think we’re off the hook, lest we be tempted to make a permanent home in the small cramped space of low expectations and limited responsibility of who we are not, this BUT calls us out from the shadows and gives each of us our own significant part to play.
As it turns out, of course, in God’s wise and wonderful ways, we actually serve God best by not trying to be who we are not, not pretending we are the Messiah, but like John the Baptist, just simply by being ourselves: Wondering and wandering people, sometimes impatient and longing, often doubting, frequently lost and usually a bit tired and stumbling travelers in this journey of life. And in our own unique darkness, in our own unique limitations, in our own unique path of life, we become what God intends us to become—
Not the be the Light, but to testify to the Light— to speak up on behalf of those who have been silenced, to live lives of honesty and justice, to offer protection to those who are unable to protect themselves, to offer our coats to those who have none, to lift up those who have drawn the short straw and are burdened with addictions or poverty or mental illness. We are not the Messiah but we are called to tell the truth of God’s grace, to share freely of what we have come to know and give abundantly from the many gifts we have received.
We can be witnesses to the Light because we have watched it shine in our very own darkness time and time again, healing us when we were broken and supporting us when we were afraid and forgiving us when we have sinned and bestowing blessings upon us when we deserve so much less.
So yes, we are not the Light…BUT…we can reflect that light to others in their dark moment, because light, of course, always shows up best in darkness.