John 1:6-8; 19-28, 2nd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
Have you ever looked at the moon and wondered at its beauty? Its shape transforming from a crescent to a disc as it dances across the sky, through the changing of the seasons. Luminously golden as it may appear to us who behold it, we know that the moon has no light of its own. It merely reflects the splendour of the sun. Without the sun, the moon sinks into a deep dark oblivion. Its beauty, its being seen at all, depends completely on it being in the light of the sun.
This is what I think John the Baptist is trying to get us to think and to pray today. His entrance onto the drama of salvation in the Gospel is prefaced by the evangelist John in this way: He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light. John’s role was to point to the light from the wilderness of Israel, from the darkness of sin. He points to Jesus. Though he had a mission to perform, a baptism of the water to signify repentance, this was merely to open the way to the baptism of the spirit that will come with Jesus. John is clear he is not the Christ, and he makes sure that his followers know this. The one who is coming is far greater, and John is not fit to undo his sandal-strap. John knows intimately that he is merely reflecting the light of Christ, he is but a moon orbiting around the sun and reflecting its splendour and glory.
Such I think is the first invitation of our readings today: know who you are in respect to God. In all our relationships — as a friend, a spouse, a parent, a pastoral worker, a priest — do not mistake ourselves as the liberator, the healer, the comforter, the saviour. We might do this sometimes and then get frustrated as our efforts fail. We find ourselves stumbling in our steps, fumbling in our speech. The good news is we need not try so hard. All we need to do is to stand in the light of Christ, and to point to the source of the light. The same light that illumines our hearts will illumine those who are closest to us. And then that darkness which we sometimes find in ourselves, in others and our world, will be filled with the light of Christ.
Our first reading tells us what happens to us when we stand in the light. We are told that God then clothes us in the garments of salvation, wraps us in the cloak of integrity, adorns us with jewels. In the light of God we become radiant, beautiful. This is the second invitation of our readings today: know who God is. God is the one who shines God’s own light on us. He is our liberator, healer, comforter, saviour. In other words, God is the one who loves us. God’s love for us is limitless and so it overflows into the world as grace, enabling us to bring God’s message of hope and comfort to the people who need it most.
It is this standing in the light of God, this knowing who we are in respect to God and who God is as love, which is the source of our joy, the central theme of our third of week of Advent. This is Gaudete Sunday, our moment of joy. Through the experience of what God has done for Israel, Isaiah exults in the Lord. This same prayer is then prayed by Mary in her Magnificat. She knows of her nothingness, but in God is she blessed. It is this felt knowledge of all that God has done for her, all who God is for her, that leads Mary to exclaim: My soul rejoices in God my Saviour! Mary understands that she stands in the light of God.
Soon we shall celebrate how Mary not only reflected God’s light, but that this Light came through her into the world. Perhaps this is what we should ask for in Advent, not only that we reflect God’s light, but that as we stand there in the Light, like Mary, God’s Light will shine through us. John of the Cross, whose feast we recently celebrated, says that the goal of our spiritual lives is to become like a window, unstained by dust, such that the light can shine right through us (Dark Night 2.8.4).
As winter deepens and as we wait for the dawning of the Light of Christmas, we do well to ask ourselves, where do we find our light? How are we being changed in that light?