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Homily of Bishop William Crean – 3rd Sunday of Advent – 17th

3rd Sunday of Advent

St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh

17th December 2023

“Witness to the light”

My friends,

Earlier this year I had the privilege of visiting Jordan as part of the Holy See Delegation of Bishops who make an annual visit to the Holy Land to support the Christian communities that continue to survive there despite the ongoing conflict in the region. Visiting Jordan afforded the opportunity to visit the holy sites associated with John the Baptist, particularly the reputed site on the river Jordan where he preached and baptised. We were also taken on a guided tour to the cave in which John lived close to the Jordan river.

John the Baptist is the great Advent figure as we can glean from to-days Gospel. In him and in his preaching, we find the high point of the Old Testament expectation and anticipation of the Messiah. John was utterly clear in his understanding of his ministry to preach repentance as a preparation of a path for the Lord. He was clearly a forceful and charismatic figure who commanded attention and attracted followers. We get a sense of an ascetic hermit whose entire focus was beyond his own need and always in service of the one who “would come after him” – the one who would baptise not just with water but with the Holy Spirit also. His declaration is unequivocal that such is he who will come he was unfit to undo the strap of his sandal. One phrase from Scripture that captures the life of John the Baptist so accurately is that which describes him a WITNESS TO THE LIGHT.

When we take the combination of the references to John the Baptist in the Gospels we gain a yet deeper sense of his conscious awareness of his call – that He (the Messiah) must increase while I (the Baptist) must decrease. It is like he features on the stage of the New Testament but for a short interval to introduce and pave the way for the One who would prove greater than himself.

Visiting the site where both John the Baptist and Jesus met, talked and mingled with people, where Jesus submitted himself to baptism by John gives one a profound sense of the extraordinary event in human history that Bethlehem represents and encapsulates. John is a ‘witness to the light’ that breaks through the shadow and darkness of a sinful and flawed humanity.

As we mark this 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday a Sunday of joy we sense the meaning and mystery of these days. This grasp of its meaning and purpose in life doesn’t happen automatically. Facts of events are easily grasped and understood but their meaning for our daily living require our time and attention. We need to make space for our inner selves, our heart and soul to dwell reflectively on that which the eye cannot see.

Thankfully, this spiritual growth is being nurtured in the lives of many. Yet one has a sense that the lure of constant stimulation of our senses is making it more difficult for families, for children and young people to appreciate the richness and purpose that the Advent and Christmas Seasons can bring to our life.

To-day we give thanks for the sense of joy we experience and anticipate these days.

We keep close to our hearts so many who yearn for these blessings.

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