Advent Week Three: Great Expectations Parents know the different cries of their baby: whether it’s a cry of discomfort, hunger, anger. The very sound of the baby’s cry includes something of the baby’s experience and need. Though not able to speak words yet, the baby nevertheless is quite capable of communicating, and good parents are ever attuned to this constant and revealing self-information that helps them give comfort and security to their little bundle of love. Advent calls us to be ever attuned to the cries around us that testify to the Light come into our midst and that challenge us to encounter Christ in such a way that we cannot hold within ourselves our own cries of recognition and commitment. After saying clearly who he is not (“Christ or Elijah or the Prophet”), John does say who he is: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert.” So who is John? The one who in his very being recognizes the Christ who has come to lead the people into the fullness of light and Life. Testifying with conviction to the light of Christ must be more than speaking words; the conviction is conveyed—cried out—by the way we choose to live each day. We are to do good works (“bring glad tidings to the poor,” “heal the brokenhearted,” etc.; first reading). Testifying with conviction also means that we must constantly grow in our relationship to Christ and learn to recognize him even where we might not expect to find him. Yes, sometimes we are like the people in the gospel in that we seek the Messiah but often do not recognize his Presence in our midst. The work of Advent is to intensify our good works so that we become attuned to recognizing Christ here and now; even more, it is the work of our whole Christian lives. As we near the celebration of Christmas, we ourselves must take up John’s conviction, John’s cry. Testifying with conviction comes to greater fullness when we have been tried in the various “deserts” of our daily living. Testing confronts us with choices, and making good choices attunes us to Christ’s Presence to us in so many ways. This testing brings us growth and liveliness. It helps us see in new ways and cry out with ever greater urgency. What is at stake is recognition of the Messiah-Christ among us. It’s easy and comfortable to recognize Christ in the expected places and ways. When we enter the peace of a church, for example, we expect to find God. When we sit and pray in our homes, we expect to find God and have our prayers answered. All this is good. The “deserts” of our own lives are opportunities testing us and leading us to deeper conviction about who Christ is. For example, the “desert” of a long, debilitating illness tests our trust in God’s Presence and care. The “desert” of a failed relationship tests our understanding of love and fidelity, and our willingness to forgive. The “desert” of unemployment and financial stress tests our priorities and values and our willingness to depend on God. Such testing shapes our convictions, helps us encounter Christ in our daily living, and enables us to testify to him with greater authenticity. Especially during these final days before Christmas when everyone is so busy, we can forget that our mission is like John’s: to testify to the Light by crying out its Presence in our midst. We do this by how we respond to those around us: take time to listen to the one hurting, visit those who might be forgotten, do with a little less ourselves so others might have more, take time to pray, remember to give thanks, offer a helping hand, reorganize our priorities, praise the God in others.