For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members: Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28. You can read the texts by clicking here.
I always imagined John the Baptist as a rather strident and coarse fellow, complete with his camel hair clothing, locust diet, apocalyptic message, and his uneasy relationship with authority (things didn’t end well with Herod). I can’t imagine John being a person with whom I’d like to have coffee and a chat. But, unpleasant or not, today’s Gospel presents John as a profoundly humble person who was deeply aware of his own identity and mission. And I think we can learn a lot from him in this regard.
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher who became famous enough for the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to take notice and send priests to find and listen to him. He was a celebrity. So when the priests asked “Who are you?”, John demonstrated profound humility and integrity when he replied that he was not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, but simply a voice crying in the desert. John could have easily claimed the mantle of any of these very important persons and thereby increase his own celebrity among the people. Can you imagine the flocks of would-be followers if he said (or even obliquely suggested) that he was Elijah or the Messiah? Perhaps that might have been a fleeting temptation for him. But John chose to remain faithful to his own identity and to speak his own truth as he understood it.
I think John’s example to us, particularly for LGBT folks and those who advocate for them, is “I am my own person, with my own truth to proclaim in this world. My story may be quite different from others, but it is mine, and I must live it with integrity.” Thomas Merton wrote a powerful reflection on this theme:
“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree… The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like [God]… This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do.”
We have many reasons to rejoice on this Third Advent Sunday, known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, not least of which is the mystery of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. But I suggest we also take time to revel in our own uniqueness, the knowledge that each of us is utterly special in this world because no one can witness to God’s love in quite the same way. Each of us can contribute to a more humane and compassionate world, not by living by the narratives of others, but by sharing our own unique stories, just as John the Baptist did. By leading lives of integrity and openness, LGBT folks can give glory to God as only we can — and we should rejoice for the opportunity!
–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry