3rd Sunday of Advent (Jn 1:6-8,19-26) “Be Who You Were Born To Be!” PDF Version
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B (2017): Jn 1:6-8,19-26
Since one of my brothers celebrates his birthday a few days before Christmas, it became a family tradition to spent his birthday going to whatever blockbuster movie was playing in the theatres. For the past few years it has been all about Star Wars and nostalgically reliving the wonders of our first encounter as kids with that world of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far way, when we watched the first Star Wars movies and witnessed as each of the VHS tapes eventually got destroyed inside the VCR from over viewing.
In the early 2000’s, the Lord of the Rings’ movies were what we watched for my brother’s birthday. Considering between the 4 brothers we have read Tolkien’s masterpiece upwards of 30 times, it would be an understatement to say that we were both excited but sceptical of how the movies would recreate the majesty of the one of the greatest literary works of all time.
As I read today’s Gospel passage from St John, my mind went to how the LOTR movies and novels offered differing presentations of the one of the main characters, King Aragorn. In the movies, Aragorn is a haunted and uncertain leader, a man who knows he was born to be a king but who seeks to run from his destiny because of his weaknesses and fear that he will be unable to lead his people in a time of relentless darkness. His existential struggle with himself and growth as a character throughout the trilogy of movies made for a fine performance and made him a very relatable character to those who are reluctant to take on the great responsibilities of leadership in difficult times.
However, the Aragorn that one finds in the LOTR novels is a very different man. While he has his moments of doubt, fear and uncertainty about his ability to put aside his life as an exiled king to become the leader of the free peoples of Middle Earth, there is a greater confidence and certainty in Aragorn that he will become the king he was born to be, and neither his own weakness, the formidable foes he will face or even venturing to the realm of the dead to command a legion of fallen soldiers could deter him from the path he was chosen to walk. He was a man who knew himself, who understood the magnitude of his birth rite and what was expected of him as king. He did not seek the refugee of becoming someone other than who he was supposed to be, but had his eyes firmly fixed on becoming what he was called to be, a leader and saviour for those who lived in the shadow of an incredible darkness.
I taught of novel version of King Aragorn when I read this passage of St John’s Gospel regarding the identity and mission of St John the Baptist. He too was a man who knew with great certainty and confidence who he was born to be. St John the Baptist is portrayed in the Gospels as a man of unshakeable conviction and humble acceptance of who he was and what God had planned for him to undertake to prepare to “testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. [Though] He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”
God had given the Baptist many talents and allowed him to captivate the hearts of many who were looking for hope and salvation. And so how tempting it might have been to either run away from the grave responsibilities that were put before him, or worse, to seek to become someone he was not meant to be, denying his true self and masquerading as another.
How easily he could have convinced the people of his day that He was Elijah returned to earth, or the long foretold prophet from the Book of Deuteronomy that Moses prophesised would arise to once again teach God’s people His eternal law. Worst of all, John could have pretended to be the Messiah and many would have believed him, following him with a false hope that John would save his people when John was unable to save God’s people from their sins, he being but a man and not the Son of God, though as our Lord testified John was the greatest man born of woman.
Because John knew himself, understanding his identity as a voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord, and resisting any temptation to deceive others in pretending to be someone he was not, St John the Baptist will forever inspire us to do likewise.
He will teach us that our identity as Christians is rooted in being a Son or Daughter of God. As children of God, we are called to be co-workers with Christ, some would go so far as to say to be co-redeemers with Christ in so far as we work with Our Lord to bring others to salvation. But to be a son or daughter of God is also to save us from the deception of becoming a false messiah for others. How easy it can be for us to seek to win the esteem of others and think that by following our word and example we can save people, making them into better versions of themselves and having others place too much trust and inspiration in us instead of recognizing that whatever good we have in us comes from God and is meant to be given back to God for His greater glory and not our own.
We live in a world that is filled with men and women who act like false messiahs. They are those political leaders who promise to rid the world of suffering, inequality and injustice but without seeking the guidance and help of God, and so fashion themselves into political saviours who seek to make men and women think and believe that they, and not God, possess the way to truth, happiness and progress.
Often movie stars and sport athletes can become international idols that people seek to become, hanging on their every word and success as the embodiment of happiness in this life and lead us to vain fantasies where we long to live to escape our own unique identity and calling in life.
Even good and holy bishops and priests can too often become too preoccupied in their own talents, ministry and endeavours in the life of the Church and the world that they put forward themselves as the model and inspiration for others to praise and imitate, instead of seeking to be more like St John the Baptist in pointing others to Jesus Christ and truly believing that they too are unworthy to untie the thong of the Lord’s sandal.
The King Aragorn of the LOTR novels understood who he was born to be and kept his eyes fixed on becoming the king and healer that Middle Earth needed him to be. St John the Baptist too understood his true identity in being the one who would prepare the way of the Lord and then seek to decrease so that Christ could increase. And so my friends, may we to ask what might be a difficult question to face: do we know who we were born to be and do we seek, as God’s children, to live out our true identity as Sons and Daughters of God with humility, purpose and joy?