One winter evening, a boy of 8 years was outside in the front veranda looking for something. His father, arriving home from work, saw him and asked the boy, “What are you doing there?” The boy then responded, I’m looking for my toy car.” The father asked, “Where did you last have it with you?’ The boy said, “It was right there” pointing out to the small garden with no light. Puzzled, the father asked further, “Then, why are you looking for it here?” “Well”, the boy said, It’s bright here.” —- “And I’m scared of the dark. Would you accompany me to search for it?”
Darkness can terrify us. It can consume us, as we know from the challenging experiences the world has faced in 2020 due to coronavirus. Australia has fared better than most countries in the world. We seem to have emerged from the darkness caused by a high number of positive cases, of lockdowns and of isolation. Yet, the effect of such “darkness” still lingers in this country, represented by the number of jobs lost, the sharp increase in the number of people – the young ones, especially – having mental health issues; and not to mention the physical health problems that people may suffer in the future because they had to forego the necessary health tests and screenings this year. Beyond this country, beyond our own comfort zones, too many people are still in the darkness caused by the pandemic. 71.5 million people have been infected, 1.6 million have lost their lives. These numbers do not include those suffering from the other social and economic effects.
In the reading from the Gospel of John today, we hear again about John the Baptist, a similar story we heard from Mark’s Gospel last week. John appears in the wilderness, which in the ancient Palestine was not a touristy place. It was a scary place full of scorpions, poisonous snakes; and of course, demons. It was a place of loneliness, barrenness and death. But, as John pointed out, the wilderness was exactly where God chose to appear among the people, in the person of his Son, Jesus, who was soon to emerge from all those crowds of repentant Israelites coming to John for baptism.
These people went into the wilderness to find John. It was as if the people were hungry for light, taking the risk to flee the darkness that they have been in and to encounter the light. And some, although maybe cynically, asked John, “Are you the light – Elijah or the promised Prophet?’
“NO! But I am pointing you toward the greatest of lights,” John the Baptist seemed to say, “He is already in your midst in this wilderness. though unknown to you. He is the One who is the very incarnation of the presence of God.”
So, the challenge for us today is how we can recognise this presence of God, especially when we are in darkness, scared or even paralysed, caused by the pandemic or any other reasons. Perhaps, it is time for us to reflect and take the risks to encounter the greatest of lights because we can be certain that God is not absent from our wilderness and anyone’s wilderness; and God wants all of us to receive the light. Naturally, the father in my story earlier, would get a torch and accompany his son to search for his toy car in the garden.
So can we recognize this light from its works: bringing good news to the poor, binding up hearts that are broken, proclaiming liberty to captives and freedom to those in prison – as prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading.
If we have received such light, in turn, are we also allowing ourselves to be the incarnation of the presence of God in this world? Are we bringing the light to others still in darkness and correctly pointing others toward Jesus – the greatest of light – by our actions, our words, our prayers?
The Advent call for repentance and change of heart can lead us to discover a whole new depth and meaning of our faith, and, in that discovery, to find some measure of hope and joy – not just for ourselves but also for many others. As such, we truly have a good reason to rejoice.
Fr Eka Tanaya SJ
Homily for Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) 2020 at St Ignatius’ Church
Richmond Catholic Parish, Victoria, Australia