3rd Sunday Of Advent Year B
Jesus is truly Good News. This Advent, let us evangelise with purity and conviction.
Dear friends, what does evangelisation work mean to you? Do you evangelise? Do you spread the Good News of Jesus Christ? If we are honest with ourselves, the fact is, many of us do not. And if we are still honest with ourselves, for those of us who do, many of us evangelise without the right disposition.
We are in the season of Advent, the period when we prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Jesus. While most of the world focus its attention on the birth of baby Jesus, Advent is also a time we focus on the Good News of Jesus Christ coming into the world. Advent is a time we reflect on what the Good News means for us the believers; it is a time for us to share the Good News with others. As with any good news, if we truly accept it in our heart, we cannot help but share it. In our daily life, whenever we receive a piece of good news, we want to share it immediately. Just take a look at the flood of social media messages hitting our phones each day – birthdays, wedding anniversaries, academic achievements, well wishes, etc. And just like other good news in our daily life, the prophet Jeremiah had this to say about the Good News of God, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jer 20:9) We recall the Gospel story of how Jesus healed two blind men in Mt 9:27-31. The Scriptures tells us that filled with the Good News, the two blind men “went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.” (Mt 9:31)
The First Reading this week was written after the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile. The prophet proclaimed God’s Grace upon the people, where broken hearts would be mended and captives would be freed. The prophet Isaiah has truly taken the Good News to heart. He said, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;” (verse 1) In the Gospel this week, we witness another example of evangelisation, with these words from John the Baptist, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” (verse 23)
What about me? While I am eager to share with others the good news of birthdays, wedding anniversaries and academic achievements, I often do not find the urge to evangelise the Good News of Jesus Christ. What does that say about my true disposition about the Good News of Jesus Christ? We have to be honest and ask ourselves: Is Jesus truly Good News to me? While it is true that some of us do not spread the Good News because we have not taken it to heart. It is also true that for those of us who evangelise, many of us do it for the wrong reasons.
Firstly, some of us evangelise to draw attention to ourselves; to draw admiration from others. In other words, we do it for personal glory, personal gratification or other personal benefits. In the Gospel this week, we saw how John the Baptist was gaining popularity, and the priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked him, “Who are you?” (verse 19) They were wondering whether John is the Messiah who was prophesised, or perhaps he is one of the prophets. (verse 20-21). But in great humility, John said, “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.” (verse 26-27) In Jewish custom of the time, the feet are the lowest and least regarded part of the body. That is why it was the slaves’ duty to wash the master’s feet when he returns home. For John, a well-regarded man at the time, to say that he is unworthy to untie the sandal of the One who is coming after him is a show of great humility. John did not evangelise to make personal gain. He just wanted to share the Good News so that his listeners may live life to the full. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves, what is my attitude when I evangelise? What is my reaction when others shower praise and gratitude towards me? Do I take credit for myself? Or do I channel all praise and thanks to God?
When Jesus sent off the Apostles to the people, he said, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” (Mt 10:8) God has showered His grace upon us freely, so we ought to share that grace with others freely. My dear brothers and sisters, when we evangelise, let us learn from St Paul who asked himself, “What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.” (1 Cor 9:18) In their evangelisation work, St Paul and his companions have refrained from reaping personal rewards from their status as the carrier of God’s words. As he said to the Thessalonians, “We worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (2 The 2:9)
Secondly, some of us think evangelisation is the sharing theological knowledge. We regard evangelisation as a purely intellectual exercise. We think that, with theological logic, we can reason non-believers into believers. In truth, evangelisation is not a journey of the head but a journey of the heart. In the Old Testament, the Israelites wondering in the desert witnessed great miracles of God. In our modern times, the canonisation of every Saints requires the verification of two miracles unexplainable by science. Yet the Israelites as well as many people in our modern times remained unconvinced about the existence of our all powerful all loving God. While Theology has a role in evangelisation, we cannot reason love, grace or forgiveness into existence; just as we cannot reason away hurt and shame. Love, grace, forgiveness and healing can only be experienced not reasoned. And the way to experience these is to open our heart to Jesus.
Thirdly, for some of us, we use evangelisation as a distraction from our own problems. Many of us, burdened by sins, are experiencing strained relationships with loved ones or are harbouring hurts in our lives. We need God to touch our hearts as much as those we are evangelising to. In truth, we need to open our own hearts for conversion before we can open others’ hearts to God. Of course, this does not mean our evangelisation work is not doing any good or is unappreciated. God can reap good fruits out of our good works, even if our motivation is not totally pure. However, our evangelisation work is rendered less effective if there is a serious discrepancy between our evangelising message and our personal spiritual life. If I am using my evangelisation work as a distraction from my personal problem, at best, I can be said to be making use of my evangelisation audience. At worst, some might even call me a hypocrite. But most importantly, it is the simple truth that I cannot give what I do not have. If my spiritual state is not at peace because of strained relationships or hurts in my life, how am I able to impart peace upon the lives of others? How can my life be an example of Christian contentment to my evangelisation audience?
So we ask, how do we get own house in order? Firstly, we must pray and trust in Jesus. In the Second Reading, St Paul said, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (verse 16-18) We are called to give thanks in all circumstances, even in the midst of our worst trials. For it is though our trials that we grow. Secondly, we must have the humility to acknowledge our brokenness and ask the Holy Spirit to come into our souls and heal us. Let us ask ourselves, am I ready to accept the Holy Spirit into my inner most being; and practice Christian virtues towards my loved ones and to those who hurt me? Let us listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Let us heed the teaching of St Paul, who counsels in this week’s Second Reading, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (verse 19) Finally, we must model our lives upon the Saints and faithful friends who serve as our examples and our encouragement. Most importantly, we must emulate Jesus and walk in his footsteps – in patience, in humility and in forgiveness. It is only then that my life can truly act as a living testimony of Christ. It only then that I can say, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). It is only then that I can truly evangelise with conviction.
In conclusion, our evangelisation work is not a self-gratifying experience; it is not an intellectual exercise; nor it is something to take our minds off our personal problems. Evangelisation is about helping others encounter the person of Jesus. Let us meditate on the teaching of Pope Benedict, who said in his first Encyclical, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (God Is Love, 1) My dear friends, this Advent let us truly encounter the person of Jesus, and let us bring this Good News to all around us. Amen.