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The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor Nova Scotia, AD 2004

 “Who art thou?”


There is an intensity to the questions of Advent which reaches a crescendo on The Fourth Sunday in Advent. “Who art thou?” ask the Priests and Levites from Jerusalem, with genuine perplexity, about John the Baptist. In response, he repeatedly and insistently turns their questions about him into a question and answer about Christ. The questions of the Advent Season are twofold:  they are questions about ourselves; they are questions about Christ.


On The Sunday Next Before Advent, Jesus asks a question about ourselves which ultimately has its fulfillment in our being with him. “What seek ye?” That question reverberates through the Advent Season and throughout the course of our lives. What do we truly want? What is the truth in our desiring? In Christ, our desiring has its legitimacy. In him, it finds its proper expression and its truest fulfillment; outside of him, every desire falls short of its mark. We can only want ultimately what God wants for us. He wants us to know what he wants for us. Christ comes to reveal and to redeem. “Come and see”, he commands the disciples. So he commands us.


On The First Sunday in Advent, we read the story of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, “and all the city was moved saying, Who is this?”  The purpose of Advent is the refinement of our seeking and the deepening of our understanding of the one who comes.  We move from wondering uncertainty to clarity, from darkness to light.  But we move through the darkness of our fears and anxieties, through the darkness of sin and judgment as The Second Sunday in Advent also reminds us.  There is “upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken”.  There is, to be sure, a cosmic intensity to the Advent of Christ.


What is our response?  Will it be a hiding of our heads in the darkness of denial, the refusal to seek understanding or will it be a holy questioning, a seeking to understand?  “Look up and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh”, Jesus tells us.


On The Third Sunday in Advent, he intensifies the nature of our seeking by pointing to John the Baptist, to the purpose of his coming in relation to our seeking. “What went ye out for to see?” he asks with threefold intensity.  The refinement of our desiring is what is constantly wanted.


These questions all reach a crescendo of intensity on The Fourth Sunday in Advent.  The Priests and Levites ask with genuine intensity about John the Baptist, “who art thou?”  They are not simply the bad guys of the Gospel.  There is a truth in their questioning, a genuine seeking to know.  But John turns their questions into a witness to Christ.  In other words, he places their questions about him in the greater purposes of God.  He turns their question “who art thou?” into a witness to Christ; the questions “who is this?” and “what seek ye?” come to fulfillment in the one whom John points out to us whom he sees coming towards him: “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world”.


The children of our Sunday School have offered us a kind of pageant in which they and we enter more fully into the mystery of the Advent of Christ and thus into the real meaning of Christmas. Their presentation is no mere side-show but a poignant reminder of how we are all enfolded in the love of God.  Nowhere is that better and more completely realized than in the Liturgy.  Here we long for and take hold of the one who comes, constantly seeking to understand more and more about the reason for God’s coming to us, something which we both await and celebrate.


We await his coming.  We do so in the mode of holy questioning.  The theme of holy questioning is heightened all the more by the commemoration of The Feast of St. Thomas on these days before Christmas – this Tuesday, December 21st.  There is in his witness a true desiring, once again, a holy questioning.  He wants to know that the Lord whom he has followed throughout the land of Palestine is, indeed, the Risen Lord, the God of our salvation.  But beyond his questioning, there is as well the refinement and the purification of his questioning.  “Be not faithless but believing”, Jesus tells him, and through him to us.  His response must be our Advent cry of faith: “My Lord, and my God”, as we behold him who comes in the very flesh of our humanity without which he cannot die and rise again for us.  To enter into the purpose of his coming requires in us the spirit of holy questioning. It means to ask with growing wonderment and awe at the God who comes to us,   


“Who art thou?”