Isaiah 61:1-14, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation. Since we have walked this way before, we know that at the end of the journey we will find God (or God will find us?), but in a most surprising manner: in the form of a baby lying in a feed trough in some Middle Eastern peasant village.
I am haunted by the many passages in the Bible where people struggle to recognize the presence of God in their midst. For example, the opening chapter of John’s Gospel is mostly about the Incarnation of the Word of God, the entry of the Light of God into the World. In other words, it’s all about Jesus, even though John’s Gospel tells us no story about “a babe lying in a manger.” But at the same time that he sings the praises of the Incarnation of the Word, the author of the gospel goes out of his way to warn us not to get confused and misinterpret the presence of God in our midst. John the Baptist is a true agent of God, the evangelist says, bearing true witness to the Light of the World, but apparently it would be easy to misinterpret John the Baptist as the Light, instead of a witness to the Light. As great as John the Baptist is, we are warned against mistaking him for someone even greater for whom he prepares the way.
Apparently people were misinterpreting John the Baptist as “the Light,” at the same time that the Light was standing right in their midst, and they were oblivious to his presence: “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
It’s easy to get confused. We regularly misinterpret the signals of God’s presence in our midst. We misread some signals, while others we completely overlook.
I wonder where and how the feed trough and the baby will show up in our lives this year? I bet it won’t be what we are expecting.
Robert M. Fowler