Testimony: Advent context

john-the-baptistThe 3rd Sunday in Advent continues to feature John the Baptist as the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. The Reading for the Third Sunday of Lent is John 1:6-8, 19-28 (shown below in bold italics) – but it seemed good to me to also show the more continuous context of the Gospel according to John:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; 5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. 12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, 17 because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him. 19 And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites (to him) to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” 23 He said: “I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” 24 Some Pharisees were also sent. 25 They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, 27 the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Context and Advent. The prologue and beginning of the Gospel according to John appears on the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year B) as well as the gospel for the Mass on Christmas during the day (all years) and in some small part on the 3rd Sunday of Christmas (all years). In all the uses John the Evangelist is orienting the reader of the gospel with a fusion of traditional materials: a hymn about the pre-existing Word of God, John the Baptist, as well as many OT images. The goal of the fusion is most powerfully seen in the closing verses of the Prologue (vv.14-18) in which the language about God and Word (v.1) become the language about Father and Son (v.17). The story of the Word becomes identical with the story of Jesus. The Word becoming flesh (v.14) is the defining event of human history in which the relationship of God and humanity is forever changed in the Incarnation. The Incarnation means that people can see, hear, and know God in ways never before possible. Such is the effect of the divine light in the world. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race (vv.3-4)

David Lose has a wonderful reflection (….In the Meantime) that I thought good to include here:

“There is, John says, a point to the universe. That is a debatable conclusion these days. Theories about the beginning of the cosmos, evidence of an expanding universe, the discovery of dark matter, and so on – all of this and more raise questions about whether there is anything or anyone behind the creation of the world and the point – or lack thereof – of our existence.

“The typical – or at least culturally dominant – Christian response has been to argue backwards from the complexity of our present world to the existence of an intelligent designer. This assumes, of course, that chaos cannot ever result in something complex and useful. And it often leads to an embrace of a pre- if not un-scientific view of the world that is difficult for most of us to accept.

“So is that our only choice – random meaninglessness or uncritical biblicism? I don’t think so, as John offers another model.

“John doesn’t seek to prove the existence of a creator, you see, he confesses it. In fact, he sings it. When you read these first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel, what we often call the Prologue, you realize quite quickly that it is as much poetry as narrative, filled not with equations but metaphors, and therefore is far closer to a song than a scientific essay. John makes a confession, not seeking to prove but persuade the way all art persuades, through beauty.

“And so John confesses that at the heart of all we do and are, and at the core of all that is, lives God’s Word, not merely existing but giving life, and not life in general but life with meaning and purpose. Life, that is, that gives light.

“Skeptics on both the most liberal and most conservative ends of the spectrum may scoff at confession, seeking instead some kind of proof, whether scientific or scriptural. But John simply confesses with poetry, metaphor, and song that at the very core of the universe is the heart beat of God, the Word that gives life, and the Word that thereby also enlightens our life.

“Faith, like love, can be understood only from the inside. And so the question isn’t simply whether you assent to this confession, but rather, when you sing John’s song, do you feel the light of the world pulsing through your voice?”

This is Advent – an invitation to enter into the inside, to be lifted up in love, and to let the song of your life in Christ be your testimony.

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