A No Can Open Up to a Yes from God.
There are times in human lives that a single, simple
yes or no is all that is needed to clear the way for God’s great design.
Isaiah 61:1–2a, 10–11
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.
I rejoice heartily in the Lord,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord God make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.
My soul rejoices in my God.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–24
Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.
John 1:6–8, 19–28
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
make straight the way of the Lord,
as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Understanding the Word
Despite the promises of glorious restoration given through earlier prophets, decades after the Exile, Jerusalem and Judah remained small and poor. Isaiah’s answer to the question “Why isn’t God doing anything?” has two aspects. The first answer is to be patient and trust, with a hopeful confidence that what God has promised will be done. The second aspect is captured by the phrase “wrapped me in a mantle of justice.” The people must also take responsibility for the problems that led to the Exile in the first place, especially widespread injustice, which seems to have continued after the Exile. Trust in God’s fidelity had to be combined with resolve to mend their ways and live within God’s will.
Saint Paul concludes his First Letter to the Thessalonians by encouraging a people that has struggled to make sense of the apparent delay in the return of Christ. It is difficult to maintain religious fervor and faith under such circumstances, and the tendency was to grow doubtful or negligent. But the Thessalonians should rejoice and keep up their prayer, especially thanksgiving. Attend to the gifts that God has given, Paul says, but do not be naïve: everything must be tested for its goodness. The letter ends with a prayer that God will preserve the Thessalonians during this difficult time, keeping them holy and blameless. God is faithful. The promises given in Christ will come to pass.
As in last week’s Gospel, John the Baptist announces that he is preparing the way for one greater than himself. In response to a challenge from the priests and Levites, who want to know what role John believes he plays in the expected coming of the Messiah, he assures them that he is not the Messiah, nor Elijah (see Malachi 3:23–24), nor “the Prophet” promised by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), understood by some Jews in the first century to be a messianic figure. By what authority, then, does he baptize, if he has no messianic pretensions? John affirms that he has no authority; his role is simply “to testify to the light” coming into the world.
Reflecting on the Word
In today’s Gospel, the Baptizer shakes his head and says no to his questioners: No, I am not the light; I am not the Christ; I am not Elijah; I am not the Prophet. No, no, and no.
We often hear about Mary’s yes and how we should imitate her. What about John the Baptist’s no? Should we imitate his no too? What if the man crying out in the desert had answered yes? What if he had taken the praises he received as his due, puffed out his camel hair–covered chest and said, “Yes, I am Elijah. I am good. I am the Prophet. Look at me!” He could have. But he would have lost his way.
I was pondering that no a few days ago as I walked to my office. I was treading one of the numerous sidewalks on the Notre Dame campus, the one that leads from my car to the theology building. Directly in front of me was one clear line where the concrete sections came together. I put my left foot on that crack and tried to walk straight and stay straight. I imagined, “Hmmm . . . so this one is my line, my path.” If I turn aside from that line, through envy or the distraction of wishing that I were on someone else’s route, I could lose my way and miss what I was created to do.
John the Baptist stuck to his path. He was as at home with who he was not. His clear no opened the space for the grander yes of his particular mission: he readied the world for Jesus.
We can imitate that no to what we are not. You and I are unique children of God, each with a unique mission. We too can ready the world for Jesus.
- Who are you? Who are you not? To what identity does God ask you to say no? How can you and I lose our way, wishing we were someone else?
- Where are the small ways we say no in our lives? Saying no to that slice of double-chocolate cake may open the space for a slimmer figure. Telling ourselves no to that extra fifteen minutes of sleep after the alarm rings opens space for a healthier breakfast and a more relaxed preparation for work. How can no open the space for God’s vision for us of a bigger and grander yes?
Living and Praying with the Word
Savior of the World, here we are. As we are. You have anointed us to bring glad tidings to this world. Give us the courage to imitate John the Baptist’s no. Strengthen us, so that we are people of honesty, clarity, and valor, willing to say no to anything that does not further your glory. For you are coming soon. We rejoice heartily that you want to use our unique gifts and talents to help to prepare this world for your coming. Come, Lord Jesus, our Emmanuel!