Today's gospel has two simple sentences that we could meditate on richly. The first one is:
What have you to say about yourself? (John 1.22)
This was the question put to John the Baptist. Sooner or later it will be addressed to us. If you believe in Christ, then people will get to hear about it. You may let slip the fact that you go to Mass. Or one Ash Wednesday you may forget to wash the mark off your forehead. Or you may ask not to work on Good Friday. Or people will note that your children go to a Catholic school. And the question put to John the Baptist will be put to you in some form or another. Why do you try to align your life in keeping with your belief in Christ? What difference does faith make? Why believe in God? You see, the question put to John the Baptist was not really a question about him at all. It was a question about his faith in the one who was coming, the Lord.
What would you say? I think that we find the answer in what John the Baptist says in the gospel we hear today:
There stands among you - unknown to you - the promised Messiah (John 1.1.26-27a)
To know that Christ is among us changes our world. We know that we live in a world that God loves so much that he came among us in human flesh. Not only that, but the risen Christ is a living presence among us still. That, I think, is how I would answer the question. I would say that my faith tells me that we live in a world loved by God so much that he bound himself to us, and us to him, through Christ.
To know that Christ is among us means that we will sometimes sense his presence. His reproving glance will stifle the word of anger. His encouraging presence will give us strength in times of weakness. His consoling arm will heal us in times of hurt or bewilderment. His word of forgiveness will help us turn from sin and begin again. Outwardly, nothing may be different. Inwardly, we will know what Christ can do. And this does not stop with ourselves, for we know that Christ told us that he will be among us in the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry and the naked. And so Christian men and women, without making a song and dance about it, are inspired to work with and for charities. They look on the world's problems, indeed its agonies, and wonder where they can most fruitfully help. They ask the Holy Spirit to lead them in finding what to do.
These are not dramatic changes. Alone we feel that we can do little or nothing. With a company of fellow believers who know that Christ is with them, we know that we can live up to the challenge we find in Isaiah today: to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the wounded, to bring freedom to those held in chains.