16 December, Friday — Persevering in taking up John’s call

Friday of the 3rd Week of Advent

Isa 56:1-3,6-8
Jn 5:33-36

John was a lamp alight and shining, and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.

For the past few years (and particularly during the pandemic), I have tried to read and reflect more about the Advent season. One of the key insights I appreciated was learning more about the figures in the events just preceding Jesus’s birth – Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their son who would grow up to become John the Baptist.

But I wonder what my own reaction to John would have been if I’d met him. Would I have been shocked and turned off by his unconventional ways? Or would those unconventional ways inspire me to follow him just to be part of the ‘cool kids’? How would I have been able to discern that he was really speaking the truth about the Messiah amid the throngs of false prophets? And perhaps just as importantly, after confirming that he was the ‘real thing’, would I have the courage to follow him and his teaching in the face of both external and internal opposition?

Indeed, John’s insistent call to us to prepare for Jesus’s coming is just as difficult, if not more, today in the midst of the secularism and consumerism of our Christmas celebrations. Every Advent, I make resolutions to focus on the sacred aspects of the season, and every year around this time, at the halfway mark, I am crestfallen to realise that I am not really near my goal of having a ‘holy’ Advent. It almost feels a bit frustrating at times to be countercultural, when everyone around me is looking forward to the prospect of a year-end break and gatherings with family and friends, occasions we didn’t really get to enjoy for the past few pandemic-shadowed years, and occasions which are not harmful or sinful in themselves, surely?

But perhaps I also ought to reflect on the wilderness that John calls us to make straight paths through. Walking on paths through the wilderness, instead of leaving it or detouring around it, seems to me to convey that we ought to prioritise making space for Jesus amid the everyday realities we encounter and not dismiss those realities altogether. Perhaps some of those realities can also serve as ways to bring us closer to Jesus, or to do His work in ways we never expected, especially when they are related to the stress of the festive season. I guiltily think of the instances when I was impatient with my family as we got ready for our gatherings, which makes me recall this 2021 Bishop Barron Sunday Sermon that got me thinking about how Christmas (and even Chinese New Year, in our context) is a chance for us to do our best to accept all our family members. I also wonder if I can be more generous beyond gift-giving, perhaps in terms of either making more charity donations or in terms of giving of my time and patience to those around me (even though I sometimes feel like the widow in only having two small coins to give!). Hopefully these small steps, which I can find more difficult than engaging in additional Advent prayers and reflections, can contribute towards my efforts to live a ‘holy’ Advent season for both myself and the others around me too, and help me work out how I can better follow John’s call in both conventional and unconventional ways.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jaclyn Lam)

Prayer: Lord, grant us the perseverance and wisdom to hear your call and find creative ways to respond to it amid our everyday lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for granting us the period of Advent and unexpected yet inspiring messengers such as Zechariah, Elizabeth and John to prepare ourselves for your coming.

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