Jn  1.6-8, 19-28                       Is 61.1-2,10-11                 Thess 5.16-24

Brendan Byrne SJ states the obvious, when he suggests that the witness of John the Baptist really only needs one Sunday of Advent!  And he pops up again in January for the Baptism of Jesus!  Still, here we are getting a repeat dose from John the Evangelist, after Mark’s account last week.

A witness for the light he comes, in all humility, to prepare the way by challenging hostility from the religious authorities, and common misunderstanding about his role. Remember his father Zachariah had been a Temple priest, and maybe this was first expected of John also! His baptism is a genuine call to confession of human weakness and sin, and to a change of heart about one’s behaviour and living out of faith, in terms of personal observance of rituals, including Temple worship and practical application of the Ten Commandments.

John’s Gospel doesn’t talk about Jesus’ Baptism of the Spirit and fire, as we heard from Mark’s account last week, but it’s clear enough John is providing the wake-up call to sort out one’s priorities in life, repenting, rejecting sin and evil and deciding to do better in life.  As we all know, it’s a lifelong process, whatever stage we might be at.  Hence the repeats, I guess!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had various school gatherings to reflect on and celebrate together the year gone by, farewelling our Year 6 students and expressing gratitude for those who’ve been involved over their years of growth and development in faith, life in general, and education in all its aspects.  Hopefully, their primary school days here at St Therese’s have given them a good start in preparing the way for their future challenges and opportunities.

Claude Mostowik MSC’s reflection for this weekend, focuses on the prophet (III) Trito- Isaiah’s words of hope and promise (around 500BC), that out of the ashes of exile and destruction would come freedom and joy, for those who trust in their God, who has led them back home to worship in spirit and truth, with the metaphors or images of growth and fruitfulness or productivity as signs. But don’t we know that there is never going to be full freedom and peace, until warring factions get over their differences and accept the need to compromise and share life and land?  We keep hoping, but in a conflicted world.

I like Claude’s thought: “Like any of us, we cannot deny the harsh realities people experience. For Isaiah, rejoicing comes when social divisions and wounds have been healed, and we engage with marginalised people and attend to their needs. Only then does rejoicing happen. A denial of brokenness and pain does not lead to joy, but is made possible when ordinary people are moved by the Spirit to comfort and heal. In the dark days in which we live, they show us that light and hope are possible.”   And this version of Isaiah is written in the 6th century BC, so the old problems remain and repeat down through the ages.

And speaking of comfort, healing and peace, in difficult times, on Friday I was celebrant at friend Geri’s funeral, diagnosed with an aggressive cancer only 6 months ago, at age 67.  I had several long conversations with her in recent weeks.  While she’d moved away from formal church involvement, her commitment to social justice and family and friends was very much along the lines of the Jesus message.  She had her own spirituality, which had directly evolved from her Catholic background and family life, and her innate sense of goodness.  A force of nature, wherever she went, she had a positive impact on those with whom she lived and loved.

On completion of her studies in early childhood development, she went to work with the Sisters of Charity in outback Bourke, where she actually met Mother Teresa, who said she ‘had the look’, implying she’d be a good candidate for joining the Order formally.  But that was not for Geri, as she found love in Darwin, meeting her partner in life, John, who was a doctor working with HIV/AIDS sufferers during the 1980’s AIDS epidemic, where so many died, before effective vaccines and treatment had been developed. She continued her childcare work in Darwin with indigenous families in subsequent years, and wherever she went, was a person of outreach and service to others.

One would have to say that this pair were living Gospel values, without it being spelt out as such, serving and assisting the vulnerable and those on the fringe of society through their presence and commitment. It was my privilege to reassure Geri, in her last days, that she had made such a difference to so many, and that her genuine spirituality was reflected in the life she had lived, of service to so many others, in a vivacious and generous way.  She accepted anointing as a sign of being at peace, and reflective of her Catholic roots.

And, finally, Gary, an old friend from my university days, asked me this week how I preached on the current darkness in Gaza and Israel, and all I could say was that, while the terrible situation seems intractable, we can only hope for a ceasefire and peace, and that the UN can come up with some sort of enforceable resolutions for peace and justice for the longer term. Isn’t it ironic that such horrors continue to endure at the heart of where 3 of the world’s great religions are focussed – Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths?!

So we continue to prepare the way of the Lord, as John the Baptist reiterates, with our parish Penance service offering us an opportunity to reflect on Wednesday evening this coming week, followed by the incentive of refreshments at our pre-Christmas parish volunteers from both communities!

john hannon                                                                         17th  December  2023

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