John 1: 6–8, 19–28
The gospel passage tells us about a man named John who was sent by God to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. This is the way the testimony happened. Religious leaders from Jerusalem came to find out who he was. John tells them that he is not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. He does say: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord … ” Then John is asked: “Why then do you baptize … ?” He answers: “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
The life implication of this gospel passage is ultimate in its significance: whether or not we recognize God’s coming among us in Jesus Christ. The passage is from the prologue of John’s gospel (John 1: 1–34) in which are contained the essential doctrinal truths about Jesus. It is better to read the entire prologue for oneself than to read a summary here. What is essential to note is that in the prologue we have the essential truths about Jesus. Only then does John begin his gospel narrative. Jesus himself now appears on the scene, and personally addresses two men who had heard about him and were following him. Jesus asks: “What are you looking for?” They reply: “where are you staying?” Jesus says to them: “Come, and you will see.” (John 1: 38–39)
We, the readers of the gospel, already know from the prologue that Jesus, Son of God and the Word, has dwelt with God and was God “in the beginning.” John then in the gospel narrative proceeds to tell us how various people came to recognize the divine reality of Jesus through the gift of faith. Tragically, however, we learn that others, with hardened hearts, failed to recognize him, thus remaining blind in darkness. The gospel tells us about the miracles or signs which occasioned both the recognition and the rejection of Jesus.
At the conclusion of his gospel, John tells us that Jesus did many other signs which he did not write about. But, he adds, these signs are written “that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name (John 20: 30–31).
The life implication for us is the same as it was for the people who heard about Jesus during his historical life. How do we cross that infinite space between blindness and sight, between hearing about Jesus and recognizing him as the divine person who desires to dwell in us? (Read John, Chapters 14–17.) As in John’s gospel, it is through miracles or signs that the divine presence is revealed. For some, John’s gospel can become a sign which occasions the recognition of Jesus as living Lord. For others, it may be reading the words of a saint, receiving an act of kindness, seeing a person in need, experiencing an odd coincidence, seeing the beauty of art, music, or nature. Even a tragic event in one’s life can become a miracle or sign which leads to the recognition of the divine presence.
Advent is a special time for open-hearted prayer of hope for the gift of recognizing God’s coming among us. If today you should hear his voice, harden not your heart. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.