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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

St. John the Baptist: He testified to the Light!

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 14, 2014
Saints Peter & Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ

St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness by
Bartolome Esteban Murillo
He came to testify to the Light!

"I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie." (John 1:26-27)

You may recall that last week we heard about St. John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord from the Gospel of Mark. Today on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, which is also called Gaudete Sunday, we hear a similar message from the Gospel of John 1:6-8, 19-28. However, today’s Gospel gives us different insights into John’s mission. I would like to focus on a particular word that is used to emphasize the role of John and all Christians. This word is “testimony.”

"A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light." (John 1:6-7) 

What does it mean to testify? The words "testimony" and "testify" both have a root in the Latin word, “testis.” In civil law, testimony is defined as something that someone says especially in a court of law while formally promising to tell the truth. So it is a “statement or declaration of a witness under oath.”

Christians in general use the term "testify" or "to give one's testimony" to mean "the story of how one became a Christian or how God has worked in [our] lives.” A Christian may testify to a specific event in which they believe God has done something significant that is worth sharing.

The two Johns in Jesus Life:
St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist,
who also testified to the Light
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1: 32-34)

So Christians witness to our encounter with God, which is so profound we publicly testify to this reality. Every time we recite the Creed on Sunday, we are testifying to our belief in the Catholic faith. We are publicly declaring our desire to live and follow the teachings of the Church.

And we testify to our personal conversion. To testify means that our lives have changed. People testify of how God helped them get over a struggle or an addiction. Other testimonies relate God’s radical manifestation in our lives. This is what we see in the lives of many saints such as Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Saint Teresa of Avila, and many, many others! It is the apostles, saints and all holy people throughout the history of Christianity who give us testimony of the living God! John the Baptist obviously had a life changing experience which led him into the desert to pray in solitude, eat weird food, and proclaim a message of baptism and repentance.

My brothers and sisters, most of us are probably not called to
Fr. John Paul Shea
go out into the desert and live on locusts and honey. And while we are not likely to get up in a congregation like the Protestants do and proclaim that we have been saved, God wants us to live our lives in testimony to Him! He wants us to experience His grace in our lives so that we can testify to His love! He wants us to experience His healing and testify to the power of His mercy!

Yet, we are also reminded that authentic testimony always witnesses to the truth! This is difficult for Christians today, because speaking the truth leads to rejection and persecution. This is why the prophets of the Old Testament did not want to be a prophet. They did not want to go through the agony that comes with proclaiming God’s word. Yet, they did not back down. The prophet Jeremiah declared that he would no longer speak for God because of the derision and reproach he faced. But he could't refuse because the Word of God burned like a fire in his heart (Jeremiah 20:8-9). Even Jonah, who ran away from God, could not escape his mission to go to the people of Nineveh and share God’s prophecy with them.

The prophets, the early Church fathers,  the saints, the martyrs, all these heroes of the Church throughout history were so filled with God that they could not refuse to testify to His truth! No true prophet of God has ever preached a message of tolerance or acceptance of sinful lifestyles in order to make others feel better. 

St. John the Baptist gave testimony
with his very life. He was beheaded
for telling Herod his marriage
was adulterous. Here he is portrayed
in heaven holding his severed head.
No! They proclaimed the truth of God! And this is the way it was for John the Baptist! He testified that people repent of their sins. He rebuked the powerful religious leaders who were phony. He rebuked King Herod for his immorality. In fact, John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed by Herod because he boldly preached against his adulterous marriage.

Let us remember that God calls each one of us to give testimony by our faith by the ways we live our lives. Parents are to testify by teaching the faith to their children. Couples testify to the gift of marriage by keeping their vows. Single persons witness to the world through their holiness of life. Priests are to testify by proclaiming God’s word and by faithfully living our call to celibacy. The pope, bishops and cardinals must testify to the truths of our faith by upholding and protecting Church doctrine.
During these weeks of Advent, the Church focused on the Second Coming of our Lord. Scripture teaches us that when our Lord’s Presence is near, many hearts will grow cold. They  will deny the truths of our faith. Very few will testify for God. We can see many signs of this in our society and world today. This is why there is so much anger, strife, corruption and immorality.  

But God does not want us to fall into this trap of darkness. He does not want our hearts to grow lukewarm. He wants us to deeply experience His conversion so that we can be a living testimony of His truth and joy! May the grace of God be with each one of us.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18).
St. John the Baptist meets Jesus for the first time in the Visitation when Elizabeth greets Mary.
 "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" Elizabeth asked.
And the infant leaped in her womb when Mary spoke. 

Did you enjoy this Advent Sermon? Read another by Fr. John Paul Shea: MAKE CROOKED ROADS STRAIGHT

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