There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. ... This is the testimony given by John when the religious authorities sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. -John 1:6-8,19-28
The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ. -Thomas Merton Conversion: turning from sin, turning toward Light. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9)
In iconography John is portrayed sometimes with wings, for he is a messenger, however disheveled and disrespectful-looking. He testifies to the Light, the One who is coming, the One Christians prepare for in continual conversion. In Advent the church emphasizes these ways of continual change: Repentance. Conversion of life. Self-examination. Awakening. Deepening. John was pure, living on "locusts and wild honey" that is, only on what God provided him in the desert. But the people who carry the tradition of proclaiming this Advent message, may not be so perfect (Meditation One). Even so, the message itself is pure, holy, and a guideline for preparing for the Light by deepening the core of faith at the heart of my heart (Meditation Two). And, however imperfect I may be, I am not only called to testify authentically to the Light that I find in the deep core of my being, but take Jesus at his word and try to live into the invitation and the responsibility of being a light to the world myself. (Meditation Three). Ever deepening into the Advent of my soul, I am yours, truly and imperfectly, Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Imperfect Messenger
No, there is no way around it. We will have to listen to the voice of the one calling in the wilderness, even though he says: I am not the one. We will have to muster the patience of the true Advent person. The church is only the voice of one calling in the wilderness, a voice saying that the ultimate, the glorious kingdom of God, is yet to come, but only when he wills it and not when we would like it. We cannot disregard this voice simply because it comes out of the mouths of people; we cannot ignore the messenger of the church simply because he is not worthy to untie the shoestrings of his master, the one he is announcing, or because he is not able to call down fire from heaven the way Elijah did. It is simply still Advent. Even the church is still an Advent church, for we are still waiting for the one to come in revealed splendor of absolute divinity along with the eternal kingdom.
-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 The Mystical Way in Everyday Life
Pray without ceasing -I Thessalonians 5:17
Your desire itself is your prayer, and if your desire is continuous, so is your prayer. It was not without reason that the Apostle said: "Pray without ceasing." We cannot be constantly genuflecting or prostrating ourselves or lifting our hands, can we? It is not with reference to such actions as these that we can speak of "praying without ceasing." There is however another prayer that is really ceaseless: it is interior and consists in desire.... If you do not wish to leave of praying, then do not leave off desiring.
-Augustine 354-430 Enarrationess in Psalmos, Ps, 37:14
Byzantine Icon of John the Baptist as messenger with wings.
John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci, 1513-16
Meditation Two (Insight) Perceiving the Light
To see visible objects we need the eyes of the body. To understand intelligible truths we need the eyes of the mind. To have the vision of divine things we cannot do without faith. What the eye is for the body, faith is for reason. To be more precise; the eye needs the light which puts it in contact with visible things; reason needs faith to show it divine things.
-Theodoret c.393-c.457 the Cure of Pagan Diseases quoted from Drinking From the Hidden Fountain ed. Thomas Spidlik
Meditation Three (integration) Invitation and Responsibility
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
-Jesus Matthew 5:14-16 NRSV
The Last Word The greatness of John the Baptist is due to his humility and self-forgetfulness. He is bathed in the radiant light of the Messiah, whom he is so anxious not to hide from others: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30)
-Adrian Nocent OSB The Liturgical Year: Advent Christmas Epiphany
Light My Lantern
John testifies to the Light. But as I turn to the light, my own shadows, the self satisfied demons nourished on my hidden resentments and bitternesses, shriek with protest. Wrap yourself in distractions! Cover yourself with shallowness. Don't let the light in ! Disguise your self hatred with humility. Deceive yourself into thinking your laziness is contemplative.
Advent comes around again and the need for repentance seems more acute every year. The older I get, the more I see the flaws in my repenting. The more I value the Light and the farther away it seems. I'll never be ready for Christmas. Oh, grace, grace, grace and more grace. I need grace.
I love how Augustine described his being drawn to God;“swept up to Thee by Thy Beauty, and torn away from Thee by my own weight.” (Confessions 7:17) That's how I feel.
Jesus called John the Baptist a “burning and a shining light” (John 5:35).” Maybe if I stay close to John, some of that light will .... No, you and I are called to be lights ourselves.
Today I adapt as my own this bit of prayer from the Instructions of Columbanus (540-615):
Give your light to my lantern, I beg you, my Jesus, so that by its light I may see that holy of holies which receives you as the eternal priest entering among the columns of your great temple. May I ever see you only, look on you, long for you; may I gaze with love on you alone, and have my lantern shining and burning always in your presence. (Amen).