(Cycle B)

Is. 61: 1-2, 10-11

1 Tes. 5: 16-24

Jn. 1: 6-8, 19-28

The arrival of the Messiah that brings salvation is the dominant theme of the liturgy of this Sunday. His coming is proceeded by the prophetic word that, as notice and consolation, prepares the way for him. In the first reading, in effect, the mission of the prophet is described that proclaims a jubilee year and announces a message of liberation and of peace for the poor: God has invested his people with justice and salvation. Paul, in the second reading, invites the community of Thessalonica to express with their life the joy that ought to characterize the disciples of Jesus. In the Gospel, the same as last Sunday, "the voice" returns to resound that in the desert, to the other side of the Jordan, gave witness to Jesus: John the Baptist, the privileged witness of the Messiah. The witness of John coincides with the faith of the Christian community: with Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah anointed with the Spirit by God, initiates for all of humanity a year of grace and jubilee announced by the prophet.

The first reading (Is. 61: 1-2, 10-11) describes "the consecration" of a person called to proclaim on the part of God a message of salvation and of joy: "The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me" (v. 1). It is the same consecrated who describes the solemn anointing. It is not said who it is. His name remains in the silence. Probably because he represents all those sent by God in history, all men and women of the Spirit that in every age and place maintain with life the hope of humanity, although he does not call himself a "prophet". However, he possesses the two fundamental qualities of a prophet: the consecration and the sending to announce the word. With the gift of the Spirit that penetrates him, he becomes "consecrated", "anointed": God has chosen him, he makes him capable and invests him with authority for the mission. The Spirit is the guarantee of the realization of the mission that he received on the part of God. This anointing of the Lord is called to be herald and crier of the word. His mission is to proclaim a joyful and hope-giving word, is called to announce the "Gospel" to the poor: "He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives freedom to those in prison" (v. 1). His word is effective. He announces the God has decided to intervene in history in favor of the despised of this world, healing and liberating a prostrated and suffering humanity. The prophet imagines himself similar to those messengers that announced in ancient Israel the arrival of the "year of jubilee" (Lev. 25: 10; Jer. 34: 8-9; Ez. 46: 17), when debts were forgiven and slaves came into liberty: "He has sent me to proclaim a year of the Lord". The expression "year of favor" is translated from the Hebrew, shenat ratsón, that literally means: "acceptable year, favorable year". That is to say, a time in which God will manifest himself particularly merciful and close, desiring to liberate and save all the oppressed and suffering ones in the world.

The verses 10-11 describe the response of the people in the face of the message of the prophet. His listeners, stimulated by such a joyful announcement, react with a cry of praise and joy. The proclamation of the jubilee obtains its first effect: jubilation. This verses refer to the city of Jerusalem personified like a midwife. The poor of the city, to whom the prophet directs himself, have experienced his announcement as "joyful notice": God is the only consoler capable of transforming their painful existence. He has "clothed" them with a special garment, expression of his urgency and love: "I exalt for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity" (v. 10). Garments and a cloak that no one will now be able to take away. A vegetal metaphor follows this image of the garments: the city is described as a fresh garden in which integrity and praise have flowered, a fruitful orchard where songs of joy and praise are lifted up which all peoples can hear in honor of the Lord (v. 11).

The second reading (1 Th. 5: 16-24) makes up the conclusive exhortation of Paul in the first letter to the Thessalonians. Again, the Apostle turns to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ and his conviction of faith in the fidelity of God: "May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (V. 23). The coherence and radicality of life of the Christian disciple is not an unrealizable dream. God himself is obligated in the process. It is God, with his fidelity and his love, who makes possible the fullness of man and woman. To the believer, corresponds the openness to the action of God (vv. 17-19: "pray constantly", "for all things give thanks", "never try to oppress the Spirit") and the intelligent search for the authentic values that bring about sanctity (vv. 20-22: "[never] treat the gift of prophecy with contempt", "think before you do anything — hold on to what is good", "avoid every form of evil").

The Gospel (Jn. 1: 6-8, 19-28) is centered today in the figure of John the Baptist, witness and prophet of the Messiah that is about to arrive. Verses 6-8, taken from the prologue of the Gospel of John, present him as a "witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him" (v. 7). The Baptist is a witness, one that declares in favor of the other. The Gospel of John conceives the work of Jesus as a grand judicial process in which light and shadows, the world and Christ, stand in confrontation. Jesus himself affirmed of his mission: "It is for judgement that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight may become blind" (Jn. 9: 39). Moreover, a little before his passion begins he will say: "Now sentence is being passed on this world" (Jn. 12: 31). A judgement-confrontation that demands from each man and woman a radical and irreversible decision. The first witness in favor of Christ is precisely John. He is a voice, a guide that leads to Christ. He is the first witness in this judgement. Of Jesus, the Scriptures will also give witness (Jn. 5: 39), the works that he himself realizes (Jn. 10: 38-39) and above all the Father (Jn. 5: 31-38, 8,18). But John is the first that teaches humanity the definitive way, the perfect light that illumines all men and women, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the baptism in the Spirit and not just with water. He publicly shows to all who is the true "spouse" of humanity, him whom he is not worthy to undo the straps of his sandals. To undo the sandal, in effect, was a public gesture by which a person would acquire the juridical rights of the other, concretely in the case of the levirate when a close relative assumes the rights of the spouse (cf. Dt. 25: 5-9; Ruth 4). When John says that he is not worth of undoing the straps of the sandals of Jesus, this is not referring to a gesture of humility, but to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah-spouse of humanity, the only one in whom all men and women can find salvation and the fullness of life. John cannot overcome him. Even more, he ought to decrease so that Jesus may increase. The last witness of the Baptist in the Gospel is this precisely: "It is the bridegroom who has the bride; and yet the bridegroom’s friend, who stands there and listens to him, is filled with joy at the bridegroom’s voice. This is the joy I feel, and it is complete. He must grow greater, I must grow less" (Jn. 3: 29-30).

In vespers of Christmas and at the doors of the new millennium, the prophetic witness of the Baptism returns to resound with strength. His "voice" proclaims the arrival of God in Jesus Christ. Advent is a propitious moment to give a place to the prophetic word. It is a time that invites us to renew our adhesion of faith in the saving Messiah and to let his Spirit mold our existence according to the duties of the kingdom of God. We need the prophetic word. A word that will make us go out from our passivity and incoherence and push us on to the active solidarity in favor of "the poor", the "broken-hearted", the "captives". A prophetic work that may announce and realize the absolute newness of the Messiah in our hears and in our society. A word that will make us open up with joy and trust in God that "loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (Jn. 3: 16).