I have always been nicknamed as ‘Junior’, ‘Junjun’, ‘Jun’ by many people who know me. However when I came to Australia in 2007, the then Bishop of Sandhurst, the late Bishop Joseph ‘Joe’ Grech asked me what name should I prefer to be called. I said, ‘Junjun’ of course. But then the Bishop said, ‘It (junjun) sounds like a toy to me, and it doesn’t mean anything. Can I call you John instead?’ Reluctantly I said, ‘Well, you can my Lord.’ I remember quite well the date when Bishop Joe unofficially ‘baptised’ me as ‘John’. That was June 24, 2007, the birth of John the Baptist. From then on he called me ‘John’. Out of obedience, I also began to introduce myself as ‘John’ to people I met.
But something happened. I don’t know if it is providence or what. On my 30th birthday, 28th of December 2010, Bishop Joe died. And with that, I silently made a resolution that ‘John’ would now have to be buried with bishop Joe. And I did. I reverted back to my beloved nickname ‘Junjun’. I reintroduced myself again as ‘Junjun’. When people asked me ‘What happened to ‘John?’ I’d answer, ‘He’s dead and buried with Bishop Joe.
However, this Second Sunday of Advent as well as our gospel today requires that I would ‘dig John up again from the grave.’ Not that I would talk about MYSELF, but because today we hear the great figure of our Christian faith telling us to pave the way for the coming of the Lord- called John, the Baptist. He is such a great figure in our faith that this second candle we lit today, is called ‘John the Baptist candle,’ to remind us the significance of our personal and communal preparation and readiness for the arrival of our saviour Jesus Christ.
He is foretold by the prophet Isaiah in our first Reading today, as the voice who cries out in the wilderness to prepare a way for the Lord…to make his paths straight. St Mark in our gospel today tells us that John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Yet, he did something more that’s worthy of our imitation…and in fact it is our basic Christian calling. Of course it is not living on ‘locusts’ and ‘ wild honey’ or wearing a ‘camel-skin’ and all that sort of thing. We ought to imitate the way of John in the sense that he is aware of who he is and he is conscious of the mission that God has entrusted to him.
If we fully know who we are, we don’t have to pretend to be someone we are not. John the Baptist knew who he is. He is God’s herald, a pre-cursor, a messenger. He knew all that and he remained faithful to who he really is. Yes, he could easily pretend to be ‘the messiah’ whom the people are waiting for a long time. We heard in the gospel ‘All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him…’He must have been very popular. If he were in our time, he must have won the ‘X-Factor. But no, he didn’t take advantage of his popularity, or of his instantaneous fame. Instead, with great humility he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals…’ It is important to understand that in those times of John the Baptist, it is the servant’s job to undo the strap of his master’s sandals. But here, John considers himself even lesser than a slave.
This is also our call today: that like John the Baptist, ONE: we would point to others the way to God. As Christians, we are all called to lead others to not leading others away from Jesus. And TWO: John is showing us that the way to Jesus or the way to God is humility. Humility means that we acknowledge who we are before God and present ourselves as to who we really are before others. This is quite a tricky call because there are times in our lives that we tend to believe we are the sole owner of our lives; that we can do anything with it. There are also times that when we achieve something better, greater or noble, we would take the credit to ourselves, but when we met misfortunes, we put the blame on God or on other people.
God forbid that we forget who we are and what we are sent here for. God gives each one of us a mission to do in life. And he wishes that we would all carry out our individual, unique and personal mission responsibly, with humility, and love. St Peter in our Second Reading today would add that we can do this by living a saintly and a holy life…that is by putting God always before us, in whatever we do, and wherever we are.
So as we go on with the season of Advent, let’s examine ourselves:
Who are we before God and before others?
Like John the Baptist, are we paving the way for others to find God through humility or
Are we hindrances for others to see God instead through pride?