Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
December 11, 2011
Third Sunday of Advent

“What are you, then?  Are you Elijah?”  John 1:21

Again I would like to mention a little story.  Once in the parish where I was pastor, a parishioner came to ask for a letter of introduction.  He was traveling to Europe on his own, not in a group, and wished to stay at monasteries along the way.  He knew that when he showed up at the monasteries he would need to be introduced.  So, would I write an introduction for him as his pastor?  Since he was a good man, involved in the parish and well-respected, I obliged.  When I finished the letter of introduction, I signed it with my appropriate title and placed the seal of the parish on the letter.  It was as official a letter of introduction as one could write. 

Advent is a season of introductions.  Ultimately we are being introduced to Jesus Christ.  It will be His birthday soon.  Some few know Him well enough.  Others know Him but not well enough.  Still others have never been properly introduced.  So every year at Advent, the Church, in its infinite wisdom, re-introduces us to Jesus Christ.  In fact, we can never know Him well enough in this life. 

This introduction takes on its immediate form in the person of St. John the Baptist.  He is Advent’s “letter of introduction” par excellence.  Why?  Because he is not what the world expects.  He dresses in camel’s hair and eats locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6).  Yet, there is something vaguely familiar about this stranger.  As the monastic guest master in Europe would have immediately recognized the parishioner as an American by what he wore, the clothing and diet of St. John was familiar because it reminded the Jews of what Elijah had worn and eaten (II Kings 1:8).  Remember the Jews expected Elijah to return again to announce the Messiah.  John is different but not completely unrecognizable.  But, who exactly is he?  The answer to that question is what the Gospel pursues.

“Who are you?” (John 1: 19), the priests and Levites ask.  “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20), John responds.  After what reminds you of a childhood game of guessing, St. John finally takes out his letter of introduction.  He quotes Isaiah and says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23).  St. John seems to answer with poetry, but this is no ordinary poetry.  This is Messianic prophecy.

From the beginning, a beginning that stretched back to Genesis, God had in His heart the desire to save.  From the moment Adam and Eve sinned God knew what it was He was going to do.  Man having sinned had to be re-introduced to God.  For this to happen, God needed a people all His own who would know Him as no one else knew Him.  The Jews exist because God took the initiative to introduce Himself.  They also exist for another reason.  They provide us with Mary, the new Eve, the woman of the “yes,” who is willing to do God’s will, because His word cannot enter the world without a human mother.  From Abraham, through the Patriarchs and Prophets, all the way down to St. John the Baptist, God re-introduces Himself and does so finally in the person of Jesus Christ, who is His Word made flesh. 

St. John the Baptist makes all this clear in the image he uses.  He protests that he is not worthy to touch the sandal strap of the Christ (John 1:27).  Christ is greater than the messenger.  There is something immediate about the message.  The guest master reads the letter making the introduction but the one he will welcome stands before him. 

When all is said and done, when all the introductions have been made, the question remains will the one receiving the introduction believe.  Will the guest master look at the signature and seals on the letter and think they are the real thing or forgeries?  He could certainly, but there comes a “yes” or “no” moment.  What moves him in one direction or the other?  To understand what is required we must listen to St. Paul.

In the second reading, St. Paul writes, “Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything, retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:19-22).  In other words, if what stands before you as evidence is credible, then believe.  If God’s Spirit moves you, if a legitimate prophet has spoken, if you pursue goodness and not evil, then believe.  Faith is a reality.  If the letter looks legitimate, if the seals are authentic, then let the guest enter.  We embrace the reality.  We make an act of faith.  Once we have done so, we plunge into a deeper reality, an unseen reality but one that is just as real, if not more so, than anything we experience through the senses. 

In this world of skepticism, where people demand proofs for everything, faith is in jeopardy.  Faith and reason go together, and it is no accident that as the world draws farther and farther away from faith, it becomes even more difficult to understand.  To paraphrase one modern philosopher, the modern world knows a great deal but understands little or nothing.   

Advent is a call to faith.  God is inviting us to faith.  If we believe already, then allow God to deepen it further.  If we have our doubts, then consider the letters of introduction and believe.  Open the letter.  Examine the seals.  Consider the signature.  Invite the guest to enter.