Christ in Us
GUIDING LIGHT - Benjamin Sim, S.J. (The Freeman) - December 8, 2019 - 12:00am

Advent is a time of waiting – waiting for Christ.  Advent is also a season of preparing – preparing for his coming.  The liturgy of the Season offers us three persons as our Advent guides: the prophet Isaiah, Mary of Nazareth, and John the Baptist. 

The prophet Isaiah shows us God preparing his exiled people, through suffering, to be a people of hope, waiting in hope for a God who will come to rescue them in His own good time.  Mary waits uniquely in a most intimate way, because the Promised One, the one for whom she is waiting, is resting within her, growing from her. And there is John the Baptist, whose father, Zechariah, prophesied soon after John’s birth: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”

Three New Testament passages about John are especially suggestive for Advent.

The first is today’s Gospel: John comes “preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” The second is the Gospel you will hear next Sunday: John in prison sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  The third is a Gospel you hear during the fourth week of Advent in cycle C: Elizabeth, pregnant with John, exclaims when Mary comes to visit her: “Behold, when the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

Let’s look at each of these passages. First, on today’s Gospel. Here the message sounds terribly grim: John comes to us clothed in “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather girdle” that are definitely not Levi’s, Giordano or Calvin Klein or any signature attire, eating “locusts” not prepared by any French chef.  His message? “Repent!” 

In Greek, repent is “metanoia,” meaning “change your mind,” “change your thinking,” “turn around,” “change your direction,” “be converted.” John is telling his fellow Jews to reform their lives, to return  to the way of life demanded by the covenant between God and Israel, to be faithful to the promise of their fathers in Exodus chapter 24: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient,” to be faithful to the “new covenant” described in Jeremiah: “I will write [my law] upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Now the Baptist’s command is just as urgent today as it was then.  If Christ is to come to us in any meaningful way, if Christians are to be more than KBL (Kasal – Binyag – Libing), “baptism-marriage-and-burial” Christians, we Christians have to change our minds, our way of thinking, our way of living. 

Recall the first Letter of John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Just look across the earth.  Everywhere there is violence and war, killings and crimes and corruption, exploitation of people and creation, people seeking pleasure at the expense of other human beings. 

Closer to home, we read of kidnappings and rapes and murders, extra-judicial killings.  Cheating and dishonesty, graft and corruption have become our way of life. And these evils are perpetrated by both Christians and non-Christians.  Is there less sin and crime in the “Christian” Philippines?               

My brothers and sisters, I speak of sin not to make you wallow in guilt.  I speak of sin because you and I are part of a covenant people; we have a sacred pact with God.  God Incarnate sealed the covenant with us in his own blood: “This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out… for the forgiveness of sins.” 

We recall that covenant every time bread and wine is consecrated to the body and blood of Jesus Christ. With this pact God has promised special love, His blessing, His protection; and we have promised to be faithful, to have no master except Christ, to be a people that is growing into His likeness.

Sin is a sacrilege, because it destroys the features of Christ in us, betrays the new covenant, shows us faithless to a God who never ceases to be faithful despite all our infidelities.

If you would prepare for Christ’s coming, pray the Psalmist’s prayer for healing: 


Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy,

blot out my transgressions.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and steadfast spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your holy Spirit from me.  

(Psalm 51: 10-11)


The second passage is the Gospel you will hear next Sunday.  John the Baptist, in his prison cell, is puzzled.  He has heard about “the deeds of Jesus.”  But he is still uncertain.  Where is the fiery social reformer he has been led to expect?  Where is Isaiah’s “liberty for the captives, the opening of the prison for those who are bound?”  He does not see “the oppressed go free,” “every yoke” broken. 

The Jews are still suffering under Roman domination; the poor still beg for bread;            the society has not changed.  True, Jesus healed some sick, raised some dead, cast out some devils.  But the real devils are still around: Roman soldiers, Pilate, Herod; poverty and sickness and inequality.

And so he sends his own disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you he who is to come [the Messiah], or shall we look for another?"  Are you the one I am supposed to proclaim, the long-awaited of the ages?  I’m not sure.

John’s puzzlement is a rough lesson for our Advent waiting.  It is not always easy to recognize Christ.  He comes in unexpected ways, ways you and I are not prepared for.  If you were living in Palestine during the time of Jesus, and somebody told you the Messiah would be coming soon, would you have looked for a baby lying on hay?  Would you have looked for him on a cross?  Would you have expected him to come to you looking like bread, tasting like bread?

It is still difficult to recognize Christ.  Christian living is a continuous Advent.  We are not simply in possession of a Christ who came to us once – is back in the heaven, and will come again at the end of time. 

No, Christ is here; but we have to search for him, look for him.  Christian faith is not a guarantee against doubt, uncertainty, wavering and ambiguity.  We walk in darkness, we grope; we cry out.

If John the Baptist – no one greater than he “among those born of women” – had to ask, “Are you the Christ?” then don’t be surprised if the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, and the super typhoon force from your quivering lips the same question:  “Is it really you, Lord.”  

The third passage is a Gospel you hear during the fourth week of Advent.  You remember after the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she is with child, and that the child in her womb was the Son of the Most High, Mary went with haste to the hill country.  She went to congratulate her cousin Elizabeth on her unexpected pregnancy and also to help her through her final three months.

As soon as Mary greeted Elizabeth, “the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy.”  Little John sensed somehow the presence of his Lord in the womb of Mary; and he stirred not as any child stirs within a mother’s body – John stirred for joy.

What you have here is a striking symbol of a remarkable truth: A special sign of God’s coming in joy.  God’s coming brings joy, and joy is a proof that God has come. Many Christians think that to be holy is to be joyless.  If something is joyful it must be sinful. 

No, my dear friends, the promise of Christ “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” is not restricted to the disciples who shared his last supper.  He pledges the same to you.  He has come again; he is here; he does see you.  The question is, do you see him?  Oh, not face to face – not yet.

But do you ever experience him?  Not in ecstasy or a vision.  Simply, do you know Christ?  Not words about him, but Christ himself.  When he rests in your palm, on your tongue, do you sense his real presence? Does his living in you thrill you, give you goose-pimples? 

Do you ever feel what a Sister once sang so lyrically:

It’s this that makes       

My spirit spin,

My bones to quake,                                                                                      

My blood run thin,

My flesh to melt inside my skin,

My very pulse create a din –

It’s this that makes       

My spirit spin:

That Heaven is – Not up, but in!

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