(THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Samuel (Sam) Taliaferro Rayburn, from Texas, served in the House of
Representatives for 49 years, from 1913 to 1961. He was Speaker of the House
three times for a total of
seventeen years. As such, he wielded incredible power and prestige: third in line of succession to the presidency .
One day, he learned that the teenage daughter of a friend had tragically died. Early the next morning, Sam knocked on the door of his friend and, when opened,
asked if there was anything he could do. His friend stammered and replied, “I don’t think there is anything you can do. We’re making all the arrangements.” “Well, have you had your morning coffee?” Sam asked. “No. We haven’t had time.” “Well,” the Speaker of the House replied, “I can at least make the coffee.” As he watched this powerful man make him coffee, the grieving father suddenly remembered. “Mr. Speaker, were you not supposed to have breakfast at the White House this morning?” “Well, I was, but I called the President and told him I had a friend in trouble, and couldn’t make it.”
A right disposition of heart...
On this third Sunday of Advent, we again encounter John the Baptist— apparently an important figure on our path, perhaps an unusual friend. We are likely safe in concluding that Jesus would like us to engage John the Baptist. Recall that the saints are not distant, folkloric, decorative figures whom we are to emulate with varying degrees of failure. The saints are first and foremost divine friends who know us, are present, are active and can act all the more if we invite and let them.
Who is John, whose impact was so great that he came to be called “the Baptizer”? “He was not the light but came to testify to the light.” John the Baptist is all about testimony--which means other-centered. John the Baptist prepares the way for an-other: Jesus, the light. John the Baptist exercises a mysterious attraction upon people, disturbing to the priests and Levites who thus come to interrogate him in the desert. “Who are you?” they ask. And he seems never to really answer: “Oh, I’m John. I hail from _____. I have a degree in _____, a great job at_____ and I’m very happy to meet you.” He only states who he is not: not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet. The only substantive thing that he says--if you can call it substantive, is “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” Try that
for a Facebook profile! None of the information that he gives can be put on his ID card! A dreadfully disappointing response, and so, the question shifts from identity to activity. “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” And John simply points to Jesus, declaring how great Jesus is.
In John the Baptist, we see the right disposition of heart if we are to discover how great Jesus is: grateful humility, childlikeness, a sense ofawe-full unworthiness. We see it in the centurion, in Matthew 8, who appeals to Jesus to heal his servant:
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word,
and my servant will be healed.”
This is indeed the fundamental disposition of heart, which is why we repeat these words for ourselves every time we are on the threshold of encountering Christ in the Eucharist
“Lord, I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” This disposition comes not so much in realizing how imperfect we are, but in realizing how perfect Jesus is, i.e., how overflowing is His love. When we recognize, for example, that, strictly speaking, when it comes to Jesus, we have no right to be here--because nothing we can do adequately corresponds to the greatness of Jesus’ gift, then we are deeply humbled and grateful and tumble into an abyss of awe. Such is the disposition of heart that rightly prepares Christmas: opening us to the mystery of the Incarnation and to Christ’s Second Coming.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to grant us such faith insight, and to refashion our hearts, that we may be humble, childlike and full of awe--and joy on this Gaudete, “Rejoice”, Rose Sunday.