Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
|Date:||December 9-10, 2017, Second Sunday in Advent, Cycle B|
I would suggest that John the Baptist is the pre-eminent model of a disciple. Jesus is certainly not a good model of discipleship; He is the one disciples follow. He is the Messiah, the savior. The Church holds Mary up as the model Christian, with good reason, but the thing that always brings me up short there is the Immaculate Conception, being born without sin. Lord knows I was not, although all of us share in being born without original sin in baptism. So I always go back to John, who had no special treatment but still served so wonderfully as the disciple who got the ball rolling.
One of the most important characteristics of John's discipleship is his wonderful humility; he knew who he was and who he wasn't. Despite his popularity and the power some of his followers tried to force on him, he remembered what all of us, but maybe most importantly those in ministry, find hard to remember: we are not the savior; we are just the heralds of the kingdom. We must decrease while Christ increases. The contrast between when we celebrate John and Jesus' birthdays highlights this. We celebrate John's on June 24th, a few days after the summer solstice, when the days start to shorten, to diminish. We celebrate Jesus' a few days after the winter solstice, when the days start to lengthen, the light starts to increase.
There is another aspect of John's discipleship I would like to reflect on with you today. I don't think it is a very common way of regarding John but it was suggested to me by an article by Edward Sellner in a Chicago Studies back in 1994 on a spirituality of the marginalized.
The marginalized refers to those who live on the fringes of whatever mainstream we are talking about. Our Judeo-Christian heritage has always had a special focus, a special tenderness, for the marginalized, the anawim. In the Hebrew Scriptures they are symbolized by the widow, the orphan, and the alien, those who had no rights under the law, and so needed protection and care.
In our Christian, and especially our Catholic, tradition this special focus continues in our social justice stance, with its preferential option for the poor, in the fact that the Church is the single largest provider of social services in the world with our care for the sick through our health care systems, in our zeal to educate those who are not served by the public schools, and in our care and protection for immigrants of every generation. These aspects of our special focus on the marginalized springs from our anointing as king in baptism.
But there is another aspect that springs from our call as prophets that makes the marginalized so important to our faith. If you look at our salvation history you will see that every important figure, every major advance in our understanding of God's revelation, has come from the marginalized. From Abraham, an insignificant Bedouin nomad who moved in exile to Egypt and in fear in Caanan, to Moses who spent most of his life either in exile in his father-in-law Laban's land or for forty years in the desert, to Jesus. Jesus not only lived in an insignificant land on the edges of the Roman Empire, but even within that land he lived out in the boondocks. In our day we have such figures as Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Ghandi, and Martin Luther King.
I believe the marginalization of these people helped them to avoid the distractions, the danger, of power that can come with being mainstream. In John's case, being on the fringe allowed him to remember who he was and was not.
I realize that it might be hard to think of ourselves as marginalized, living here in the lap of luxury in Stow but in a very real sense, just being a practicing Catholic is to be on the margins of our culture. But the marginality I would like you to reflect on is : our marginality within our church. By coming to Mass on a regular basis, we are the less than 15% of Catholics in this country who do so. We certainly are geographically on the fringe of this diocese. That was highlighted two weeks ago when Bishop Reed mentioned that he had never been to Stow.
Many women feel alienated by the hierarchy who they see as failing to put their money where their mouths are in proclaiming the special gifts of women. Many younger people are alienated because they don't have the foundation to understand our liturgy, our efforts at bringing the kingdom to life in this world. And the majority of American Catholics lack a strong sense of connectedness to the universal church or even their local church, the Archdiocese of Boston in our case.
So I would ask you today and this week to open yourself to a spirituality of the marginalized that would use the tension of living on the edge to move past anger, despair, rejection, or most often, apathy. Instead, let the Spirit move us past those negative reactions to proclaim God's coming kingdom. Let the Spirit make us prophets in the line of John the Baptist, proclaiming boldly that the kingdom of God is near, that the Savior of the world has come.
In the midst of all the chaos and pain and despair we see around us, we await the one who is mightier than John the Baptist, who is mightier than all of us. He is coming not to conquer or punish but to save us because he is the Good Shepherd who will gather us into his arms, comfort us, and care for us. Let us prepare the way for this Lord, so that all of us shall see the salvation of God.