There was a particular monastery a while back had reached a point of crisis. The monks were leaving, no new candidates were joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a certain holy hermit living nearby and decided to consult him. He told him how the monastery had diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah, but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.
With this incredible revelation the abbot went back to his monastery, summoned the monks and recounted what the hermit told him. The old monks looked at each other in disbelief, wondering who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Peter who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and never fasts. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of concealing his true identity. This only made them more confused. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the them, except himself, could be the Christ.
From that day, though, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the Messiah. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly; their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and started coming back for to be spiritually fed. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in joy and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that is so easy to overlook – that Christ was living in their midst.
We heard in Luke’s Gospel today, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” As our Advent moves steadily on towards Christmas, we are filled with a joyful expectation to welcome Christ once again into our hearts and our lives. But, we also realize that our celebration is not a mere commemoration of the arrival of Christ 2,000 years ago – something that happened long ago and far away, but we are being called to wake ourselves up again to the reality God is in our midst – all around us – here in this Church, in His Word proclaimed, in the Sacraments shared, in each one of us gathered in His Name – but also out there in the streets, in all of the many people we encounter – whether friend or foe, family or stranger, rich or poor, happy and healthy or hopeless and in need – our God is present everywhere and is just waiting for us to discover Him.
But the world is working overtime hoping that we won’t recognize Christ among us. There are instead voices of fear and anxiety that would rather have us be suspicious of one another and afraid; that would prefer if we demonized each other and treated one another as anything except brothers and sisters. But, this is not God’s message. This is not the message that this season hopes to renew in our hearts. God has come among us in the hopes that we will realize that we are all luminous beings and that God fills us and surrounds us with His presence so that we will be united in peace, mercy, love, joy and compassion – that these are the things that will transform us and our world into the Kingdom He promised.
My friends, I have a secret for you today – Christ is actually living in our midst but in such a way that perhaps we do not recognize Him. So, what are we to do? John the Baptist, today shows us. He calls us to faithfulness and care in the normal circumstances of life: If you have more than you need, share with those who have less; be honest; do not take advantage of the vulnerable; cherish your children; be faithful to each other; live in peace – and open our eyes to the presence of Christ all around us.
But, most of all we are being called to bring Jesus, the Light of the World into the darkness of our world. Let that Light be born in us and let Jesus use us to fashion a new world and bring forth the Kingdom of God. On our part, we must open our hearts and look with new eyes and hearts, and welcome everyone we encounter as though it were Christ Himself. Only then can we both be the presence of Christ in our world, but also meet Him in the people we encounter.
My friends, “Again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!”
May the Lord give you peace!