1Jn 2:22-28; 98:1,2,3ab,3cd,4; Jn 1:19-28
The great friends Saint Basil and Saint Gregory Nazianzen were both caught up in one of the greatest struggles of the early church. At this time in the church’s history one scholar observed that the sun did not set on the Arian heresy. Saint Gregory was also known simply as The Theologian, and his writings still inspire those who believe. From his prayer and study he could speak this kind of wisdom: God’s joy in giving is much greater than our joy in receiving. His friend Saint Bazil became the defender of the faith after the death of Saint Athanasius. He was bold to preach to his brothers and sisters that the shoes you have, and never wear, belong to the poor. These bishop theologians were friends of Christ the Lord and proclaimed his wondrous deeds in song and in preaching. They saw in the revelation of Christ the right hand of God winning victory for him. In their preaching they proclaimed the salvation of the Lord Jesus who as a divine person with two natures was able to both identify with our humanity and redeem it in one great act of dying and rising. Indeed, the LORD has remembered his faithfulness toward our ancestors in the faith. Even now all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Together with Saint Gregory and Saint Basil we join all who stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb in the power of the Holy Spirit and sing joyfully to the LORD. In the joy of our liturgy and in the charity of our witness we invite all nations to break into song and sing praise. In the face of such wide spread heresy Saint Basil and Saint Gregory had to ask the question our first reading poses: “Who is the liar?” Today, the Gospel of Saint John helps to distinguish the identity of the LORD and the identity of his prophet. Perhaps this ongoing Christmas Season with the feast of Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord Jesus will help us better understand and witness to the Way, the Truth and the Life. The very one who invites us to his table of truth and his altar of love so that we can “taste and see that the Lord is good!”
Even before the struggle with Arianism the Church at the time of Saint John had to deal with the issue of the mystery of Christ. In an almost prophetic manner Saint John’s first letter tries to deal with the antichrists who were emerging among the flock. Saint John is not particularly sensitive nor is he even close to being politically correct. He in fact is quite blunt. Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar. Such a one deceives because he is deceived. Although without the philosophical notions of substance, nature, and person to sort through like Saint Basil and Saint Gregory, Saint John was already dealing with the relationship between the Father and the Son and how that relationship enables us to relate to God and to one another. Just as the Son is son because he in an eternal relationship with the Father who is father because he is in an eternal relationship with the Son, so too we are in Christ, the Son, and this relationship means for us nothing less than eternal life. We are summoned to be one with the Son who is one with the Father and we know this because of the anointing from the Holy Spirit. Without this anointing we could not know the Son or the Father. Saint Paul teaches us that it is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that enables us to cry out Abba, Father and to proclaim that Jesus is Lord. Saint John teaches us to remain in this truth so that we can live out the fullness of the gospel and bring God’s justice and peace into the world. This is possible only when we love one another as the Father loves the Son in the Holy Spirit. We cannot love a God whom we do not know. The Only Begotten Son of the Father has come to reveal the Father and has left us the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, so that we can know the Father and live in his love as he lives in us all the days of our lives and unto the ages of ages.
The controversy about identity in today’s gospel seems like child’s play in comparison to the mystery of Christ and the Trinity. However the energy with which these issues are debated prepare the early community to engage in debate and not avoid controversy just because it might cause tension or even the departure of some members. The truth is worth all such struggle and consequence. The leaders in Jerusalem send emissaries, their best debaters, to confront John the Baptist. The ordained ask the basic question; this is the main reason for being sent to the banks of the Jordan. They ask John the Baptist, “Who are you?” The Baptist knew that they really wanted to know if he was the Promised One; so he was equally clear in responding, “I am not the Christ.” Then his inquisitors offered him a series of categories in which to clarify himself to their satisfaction. For in fact they wanted to know who he was so that they could make a pronouncement about him. For the sake of the people who had so often been fooled by false messiahs and been so hurt and disappointed, for their sake these questions must be asked and answered. However, Saint John the Baptist had another way of responding. He went outside of the box in which they tried to place him. He answered, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” After such a powerful reference as Isaiah and using a poetic image out of the communal memory of this prophet’s preaching, the ordained inquisitors had nothing else to say. In step the Pharisees the non-ordained scholars and faithful practitioners of the Law of Moses. Their concern was with the public and powerful behavior of Saint John. For though he may claim not to be the Christ, or the Prophet, or Elijah, why then do you do this prophetic action? Why do you baptize? These dangerous and powerful leaders were no match for Saint John. In his simple and holy response, he redirected their entire investigation. There is someone who is powerful, like you think I am, but he is already among you and you do not recognize him. He is the one whom you seek, and He is the one whom I serve in my complete unworthiness. This whole public debate sent the representatives back to Jerusalem, but it was only the beginning of many years of questioning about the identity of Jesus the Christ. Still, in our day many find these debates unnerving to say the least. Others use this discomfort to create a public persona for themselves. In the final analysis it still takes faith, a gift of God, to come to know Christ the Lord the Eternally Begotten Son of the Father who became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.