‘Are you the one who is to come?’
“The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world,
but the world did not know Him.
He came to what was his own,
but His people did not accept Him.” (Jn 1:10-11)
John the Baptist, imprisoned by Herod Antipas for proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, sends his followers to Jesus to pose a crucial question. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
There may have been deep discouragement or even doubt in John’s question. Had he been mistaken in placing his trust in Jesus? He had expected the Messiah to come with great might and fanfare, yet now John was in prison facing a death sentence and Jesus was facing growing opposition.
Jesus answers John’s followers: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Good News proclaimed to them.” (Mt 11:4-5)
That John himself needed Jesus’ reassurance gives us some sense of the inhospitable climate Jesus and his disciples encountered in first century Galilee.
As John’s disciples go off, Jesus turns to the crowds with a frustration that is palpable. “To what shall I compare this generation?” he asks, noting the rejection both he and the prophet John received from the people. On the one hand, John was mocked for his ascetic ways. On the other hand, Jesus, who ate and drank with the people, was criticized as a glutton, drunkard and friend of sinners.
As we reflect on the kind of reception Jesus received by the people of his own time and place, we might ask whether Jesus is welcome today among our own generation.
Have we ourselves in these days of Advent had a sense of eager waiting for Jesus’ coming at Christmas? Or have we been too busy to think about what it is we are celebrating? Have we driven Him from our midst, perhaps deliberately or through neglect? Do we, following the wider culture, avoid “Merry Christmas” greetings so as not to be reminded of Him?
Perhaps, in experiencing deep hurt, pain or loss, we have given up on Jesus, feeling that He has failed us in some way. Perhaps He has not met our expectations or challenged us in some way that makes us uncomfortable. Or maybe we’ve turned away from Jesus, seeking satisfaction in material things, in wealth, privilege, status, or personal advantage, pushing harder and harder, because we still feel empty, our deepest longings unsatisfied.
Perhaps we don’t know Jesus well or say we have searched, but have failed to find Him. Sometimes, of course, it may well be that we’ve been looking in the wrong places. The reality is that Jesus is in the people we most often want to avoid: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the prisoner. It is no coincidence that the first to search for Jesus found Him in a most unlikely and unexpected place, in a manger, a trough used for feeding cattle.
In answering the question posed by John from prison, Jesus told the Baptist’s followers to take note that the poor had the Good News proclaimed to them. At Christmas, this Good News is experienced: God is with us. On this day, we celebrate in a special way the reality of the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity becoming truly man while remaining truly God. God loves us so much that He sends His Son to be our Brother, our Redeemer!
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “They call him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful…which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (Is 9:5) What Jesus is —peace, justice, freedom and love — is what He wants for us. Yet somehow we always manage to thwart His wishes. It’s not Jesus that fails to live up to these titles, but we who do, in our human weakness.
Fortunately, despite the limits of our human condition, God is exceedingly generous and patient with us. Like a loving parent, God constantly encourages us and lifts us up when we fall. He gives us so many opportunities, moments of real grace, to become more fully the people we are called to be. Our response to God’s loving patience toward us should be gratitude and a desire ourselves to be loving, patient, generous, consoling, and forgiving, seekers of justice and peace, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable. If we do so, little by little, these titles of Jesus will be realized in our own time.
Pope Benedict XVI said in his encyclical, “Caritas et Veritate, “The search for love and truth is purified and liberated by Jesus Christ from the impoverishment that our humanity brings to it, and He reveals to us in all its fullness the initiative of love and the plan for true life that God has prepared for us. In Christ, charity in truth becomes the Face of His Person, a vocation for us to love our brothers and sisters in the truth of His plan.(1).
The question asked by John’s disciples is before us even now: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” This Christmas, may we grow to appreciate more deeply that Jesus is the one who is our hope and salvation. May He fill your life, your thoughts, your heart, your actions, not only today, but each day of the coming New Year, so that 2010 may be truly the Year of the Lord.
May the great gift that is Jesus give you wonder, peace and joy!