(Adults, begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child. Alternatively, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
This Sunday we get to light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. The pink candle means joy, and even though we are still preparing to celebrate the feast, we remember to celebrate our joy. I wonder what joy the Gospel contains this week?
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
We hear two words that mean almost the same thing: "witness" and "testify." A witness is someone who sees something and then tells everyone what they have seen. When a witness tells about their experience, it is called "giving witness", or "testifying." What they say--the account or story they tell of their experience--is called their "testament." John the Baptist is a witness because he has experienced the Light. We will have to think about what his testament is.
The Gospel writer is pretty clear: John is not the Light. He is directing people to the Light, but he is not the Light. The Gospel writer needs to be clear about this because some people are confused. They ask John,
“Who are you?”
He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”
And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
John isn't properly answering them, is he? He does not seem to be giving a testament. They want to know who he is--they have many guesses--but he doesn't give them any information about himself. He just says that he is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet.
I wonder if John thinks they are asking the wrong question. His testament is not about himself.
The Messiah, Elijah, the prophet--these all about people mentioned in the First Testament. Way before Jesus was born, so many people gave witness to their experience of God, and all of it is included in the oldest parts of the Bible. So much of what is written there is about Someone who is to come, Someone promised by God. The people who come to John the Baptist wonder if John is Promised . He says, "I am not."
But John has got them thinking about the Promised One. They are not looking in the right direction yet, but their hearts are being prepared. Their mouths are asking, "Who are you?" but maybe their hearts are asking, "Who is the Promised One?"
Again, they ask,
“Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’”
Now he testifies a little more. He doesn't give them a name, though, just a voice. But notice what the voice is saying! In giving them something more, John the Baptist's testament points to the Lord.
They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
Now they have changed their question. They are not asking who he is, but about what he is doing. We might think that John will proclaim the baptism of repentance that we heard about last week. But he does not:
John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
Can you imagine this? When he says, "Among you stands one whom you do not know," what would all the people begin to do? Would they not start looking around them, trying to figure out who this person might be? John the Baptist's testament has pointed them away from himself, towards "the one who is coming after." Their hearts are being prepared to know Jesus.
I wonder if there are people like John the Baptist now? People whose lives--what they say and what they do--point us toward Jesus? Who are the people who prepare our hearts to know Jesus? They are the ones who prepare us to know Joy!
This week in Advent when we celebrate our joy of knowing Jesus, we could give thanks to God for those people who have been like John the Baptist to us. We can wonder if our lives--what we say and what we do--also point people to Jesus. Perhaps our lives are also testaments. We have experienced Jesus. We know Joy!