by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
We who have the advantage of historical hindsight now know how the ancient story of God’s enfleshment turned out. So, for a moment, let us fast forward 30 years after that dark night in a stable near Bethlehem. Let us remember another Advent personality, John the Baptist, who illumined the way for Jesus’s public ministry. We know him as a towering, irrepressible herald, the voice that cried in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He’s heroic, speaking truth to power, warning those who stand in the way of the approaching Messiah’s message.
Now Jesus has finally taken center stage. His message and his works are amazing the crowds. They are already acclaiming him as “the one who is to come.” John meanwhile has spoken out once too often. He has condemned King Herod’s adultery and been thrown into jail. There John must know that this will not end well. The cruelty of Herod will inevitably come down on him. So, from jail John sends a few of his own followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come? Or are we to look for another?” In my imagination there is the real possibility that John in his own desperate situation is being plagued with doubts. Has he made a horrible mistake? Is this Jesus actually who John proclaimed him to be? Has John misunderstood his calling? In a word, is it possible that John is now unsure, depressed, even despairing?
Jesus’s answer to John’s messengers, however, is totally reassuring: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised,” and, above all, “the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Luke 7:22) In a word, Jesus says yes, I am the one foretold for centuries before by Isaiah when he prophesized about the credentials of the Messiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…” (Is. 4:18) That person whom John proclaimed so vigorously is in fact the Lux Mundi.
Two compelling lessons can be taken from this reflection. First, a time of horrible, devastating darkness which quite possibly John suffered can well be our experience today. In the face of the worldwide scourge of COVID-19, we might understandably ask: Where is the light which this Child supposedly brought? Are we putting our faith in a falsehood as we celebrate Christmas? Where is the God who we say gifted us with his Word become flesh? Where are we to turn? In this moment when it’s natural to be tempted this way, to question and doubt, may Jesus’s answer to John the Baptist assuage our misgivings and despondency. This sliver of light that arrived in Bethlehem that night proved to be Good News for the poor, and, through them, for the whole world. His message and example ring as true today as they did in 1st century Palestine. Isaiah’s prophecy has indeed been fulfilled. We really do see that Light shining all around us in the good people, religious or not, who continue doing what Christ did.
The second lesson for us is that despite our often-fragile hold on belief in the Christ Light, we rely on one another—we of Pax Christi USA—to bring that light to our darkened world. Our community strengthens our resolve to be that Light, a vocation clear but demanding as that is for us all. Together we are called to be the “Light which the Darkness has not overcome” (Jn 1:5).
We wish all a peace-filled and confident conclusion to Advent 2020.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.