“There is someone in your midst whom you do no know”. John the Baptist said this referring to Jesus, who was moving among the people at the river Jordan, even though he had not yet revealed himself. Precisely. All John is concerned about is preparing the way so that those people may believe in him. The first generation of Christians presented John in this light.
But what John is saying is written in such a way that is does not fail to raise disturbing questions in those of us Christians who read them today. Jesus is in the midst of us, but do we know him? Do we communicate with him? Do we follow him closely?
It is true that we are always talking about Jesus in the church. In theory there is nothing more important for us. But then we get taken up with discussing things to do in our parish, projects and activities, that quite often Jesus is relegated to the background. Without realising it, it is we ourselves who obscure him by hogging the limelight.
Perhaps the greatest misfortune of Christianity is that there are so many men and women who call themselves Christian, yet in whose hearts Jesus is absent. They do not know him. There are not in sympathy with him. There are not attracted or won over by him. Jesus in an inert, lifeless figure. He is mute. Jesus has left no stamp on their lives.
Beyond the realm of work and activities, it is the experience of joy which Jesus brings that is the real hallmark of Christians. This third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, a day on which we are encouraged to be joyful. This might seem a bit “out of season” for the difficult times we live in … and yet there is something prophetic about it. I say “prophetic” because the prophets try very hard to get believers to think in quite unconventional ways. For example, in times of artificial prosperity, they warn. In times of unending despair, they proclaim consolation and joy in believing. This is not just because they are awkward characters; rather, received ways of looking at reality blind us to the presence and call of God today.
It is not accidental that the recent letter from the Bishop of Rome was entitled “The Joy of the Gospel.” Suffice to say that if Christianity is not joyful, it is nothing or, more personally, if we Christians are not joyful, then somehow we are not in touch with the very heart of the Good News. Faith ought always to be happy at a deep level and, some of the time at least, exuberant. Why not enjoy the consolation of the faith? St Paul in today’s second reading certainly doesn’t hold back!
(cf. Jose A Pagola, “Following in the footsteps of Jesus”)