Advent - Third Sunday
John 01:19, 28
Selfish as the world undoubtedly is, and all the more perhaps because it is and knows itself to be selfish – there is one quality in human character from which it never can withhold, and never strives to withhold, its admiration, and that quality is, disinterestedness. The world has its own set of opinions on which it acts with unvarying consistency; it has interests which it pursues with a keenness that never flags; it loves wealth, and will do almost anything to amass it; it loves honor and will spend the finest powers of body and soul to secure it; it loves pleasure and pursues it at a cost infinitely greater than it ever dreams; it despises poverty; it has a horror of pain, cannot even understand self-denial, is shocked by the very mention of austerity – and yet, though all this is so, nevertheless, let the world come upon a man who is so utterly unlike itself as to be disinterested – a man who is not to be influenced in his conduct by the bribes that are so powerful with ordinary men; a man who cares so little for wealth, that he casts away from him, as if its touch was contamination, any portion of it that may have fallen to his lot; a man who is so far above any honor that the world can give that, if a crown lay within his reach, he would disdain to stretch out a hand to set it on his brow; a man who shudders at the thought of pleasure, as others shudder at the thought of pain; a man who is so in love with self- denial that he has made it the very principle of his conduct, and who maintains the sovereignty of soul and conscience over the warring senses, by life-long practice of austerity; in fine, a man whom the world, and all that it has to buy the souls and bodies of men, cannot bribe, nor turn one hair’s breadth from the line of rectitude which the light of conscience strikes out across the trouble waters of this world of passion; let the world, I say, find such a man as this, and, notwithstanding he is so different from itself, perhaps because he is so different, straightway the world lays at his feet the tribute of its bondage, and the crown of its admiration.
So it has been at all times, even in the most corrupt states of society that the world has ever seen; so it is now. Whom amongst yourselves do you honor most? Is it not the man whom you believe to be least open to the selfish influences that sway the minds of ordinary men?
We have an example of what I have been saying in the Gospel I have read for you. If ever there were the Jews, who held the high places in the time of our Blessed Lord; the Scribes and the Pharisees who have become a by-word to all time for hypocrisy and deceit; and yet, even they were moved in their dream of worldliness by the spectacle of the lonely austere life of John the Baptist. For, here was a man of one of the priestly families, a man who might, had he so pleased, have warmed his life by human comfort, and brightened it by worldly honor, and yet he had not chosen to use his life so; he had carried it in childhood from his father’s house, he had broken away from the ties of home, and the stronger and tender ties of a father’s care and a mother’s love. Eye of man had rarely rested that solitary figure as he grew from boyhood into youth, and from youth to manhood; in the loneliness of desert place he had pondered in his silent heart, the message that God had given him to announce, and at the appointed time he came clothed in his garb of camel’s hair, with a strange light in his eyes of an experience that had been gathered in far different places from the haunts of men. And his life and his message attracted men’s attention, and gained men’s ears in spite of themselves, and first they wondered, and then they admired the sublimity of a life which their individual experience scarcely enabled them to understand. And rumor was busy about him, as rumor is always busy, and men’s tongues discussed him and one said: “He must be the Messiah,” and another, “Perhaps he is Elias who was caught up in olden time in the chariot of fire that bore him to the mysterious land where, still a living man, untouched by the passing of all the years that have gone since then, he waits till time is ripe, to come forth to prepare the coming of the Lord; or perhaps he is, if not Elias, at any rate one of the old prophets whom God has sent again to stir the sleeping world to depths of penitence that it had forgotten.” So men spoke, and at length the leaders among the Jews put the common curiosity into shape, and sent priests and Levites to John the Baptist, that he might answer, once for all, the question that had become a question of the last importance, Tu quis es, “Who art thou?”
On next Sunday, we shall have an opportunity of giving an answer to this question by considering in some detail the life of John the Baptist; but to-day we shall dwell rather on the answer which he himself gave on this occasion, an answer which, while it displays the greatness of his humility, conveys at the same time the lesson which the Church, selecting for this Sunday this portion of the Gospel, wished to put specially before her children in this holy season of Advent.
”Who art thou?” said the priests and Levites who had been sent to John the Baptist; and remark the answer. He might have pointed to the tribe and family from which he sprang, he might have dwelt upon the life that had rendered him remarkable. But no. He has been so taken possession of by the Spirit of God, he has so identified his life and the purposes of his life with the message which God had given him to deliver, that he cannot, even in his own mind, separate himself from the mission which God has given him. He has come so far to forget himself that he looks upon himself as the mere mouthpiece of the Almighty; and so he answers, as it were – “Do not regard my life however austere it may be, think not of my holiness thought it has been renewed in meditation for many a long year, do not regard me, for I am merely a voice. I am the voice that is laden with one great unceasing cry, tuned to the delivery of one great message; through me the message comes from God to man, and the message is this – ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord.’”
God is about to visit His people as He has never visited them since the world began. He is about to come to them, not through any representative, however clothed with His authority, not through any prophet, however speaking His living Word, but in the divine person of His only begotten Son.
Do you not see now, my brethren, with what a divine sense of appropriateness the Church has selected this passage of the Gospel for the third Sunday of Advent? The Christmas time is coming nigh when we will be called upon to celebrate with happy hearts the birthday of the Infant Jesus, and, consequently, to us also comes the voice that sounded long ago in the deserts of Judea: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” What is this way of the Lord? Our Blessed Lord comes no longer in the visible form of a child. He wishes to come into the world by the way of the human soul. That, my brethren, is the road through which our Blessed Lord is fain to come. He wants to be born by his grace, in the soul of each one amongst you? Will any one, I ask, dare to bar the passage of the King of kings?