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Third Sunday of Advent: Letting the light in

Isaiah 61, 1-2.10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5, 16-24; John 1, 6-8.19-28.

The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem belongs to humanity, not to the Church. Christmas has a universal dimension that we cannot nail down to our religious devotions or even to a provincial vision of God. The prophet Isaiah is clear about this. As always, he was addressing a people in exile tempt­ed to read reality from the keyhole of their immediate experience.

His vision is not inward-looking, narrowed down to the people’s immediate needs and sufferings. His concern was to make their faith shine “in the sight of the nations”. He invites the people to refresh their ideas about God and their salvation because their understanding and vision were so narrowed down that they were stifling whatever God was able to give and do.

Christmas should refresh in us this broad vision of God’s openness to the world. The relevance and meaning of Christmas can’t be link­ed merely to our immediate needs and pain. “As the earth makes fresh things grow, as a garden makes seeds spring up, so will the Lord make integrity and praise spring up in the sight of the nations”.

John the Baptist is speaking of someone who stands in our midst but who continues to be unknown. John is pointing towards him, sort of anointing him as the one we need to know and to acknowledge in life. Jesus risks remaining the unknown among us and inside us. According to the gospel reading, John is suggesting to us only to let the light in. The rest will follow.

In his Confessions, St Augustine says he was a seeker all over the place but did not acknowledge that “you were within me”. This is the longest journey, the one that takes you inside yourself. It is a journey from one room to the other, which ultimately should lead to the inner sanctuary, as described by Theresa of Avila in her The Interior Castle.

The Baptist and Scriptures today invite us to explore our inner sanctuary, not something out there. We need to narrow the distance bet­ween the desideratum and the reality of life, to start to make things happen, to bring about the good tidings and the joy proclaimed these days.

Christmas yearly proclaims many desiderata that remain distant from life as many experience it. In the depths of our being are feelings, desires and thoughts we sense but which we fail to let out. They can be positive or negative feelings, and as a rule they continue to be a driving force in whatever we do and in whoever we are. Our task is to let the light in that we may reflect it wher­ever we are.

As Blaise Pascal wrote: “There is enough light for those who only desire to see and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” The Baptist points to the one who “stands among you – unknown to you”. He suggests that despite all that conditions and determines life, we need to dig deep inside to un­cover the seeds of joy, peace and blessings the Lord puts in our hearts.

In the second reading, St Paul warns it is easy to suppress the growth and maturity of these seeds. At times, it is in the name of a narrow-minded religion that we suppress God’s universality and block “the earth from making fresh things grow”. The birth of Jesus, God who assumed our humanity, represents a massive injection of Spirit meant to energise humanity against whatever suppresses it, and make of the world “a garden that makes seeds spring up”.

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