Who is Jesus?

Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Willem Reuter

Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Willem Reuter

In today’s Gospel, we hear how John the Baptist sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). John was asking for clear affirmation that Jesus is the one for whom the world had longed.

One of the perennial favorites on many people’s Christmas music playlist is all or part of Handel’s Messiah. This oratorio, written in the 18th century by George Frederic Handel effectively answers John’s question, bringing alive the story of Jesus Christ by setting to music the prophecies of the Old Testament and the story of Jesus birth in the Gospel. In one piece of the music, the titles for the Messiah are sung by a full choir. The musical setting is as regal as his titles: Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:5). All of these titles tell us something of who Jesus Christ is.

“Who is Jesus?” is as important a question today as ever. Perhaps the question is even more pressing as the festivities of the “holiday” risk getting more and more separated from the reason for the season – the story of Jesus’ birth.

One of the reasons that we mark the Advent season is to recall in the liturgy what Handel’s oratorio captures so beautifully, the feeling of the centuries and millennia when the world awaited the arrival of salvation. The Church remembers the oracles of the prophets of Israel so that the world may see their fulfillment with the birth of Christ.

After John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus would ask his disciples essentially the same question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)  The Lord later told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then Jesus asked her directly, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

We know how Peter and Martha responded and we know what the Church professes, but this timeless question is a personal one and it is asked of each of us: Who do you say Jesus is?

These questions frame Advent for us, asking: Do we personally believe what Peter and the Church believe? Do we believe in our own hearts that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God – and does it change the way we lead our lives?

To truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah is to believe that God gave us his only begotten Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is the God’s perfect gift. This is the great gift of the mystery of the incarnation – that God became man.

To understand what happened in the Word becoming flesh, we have to go all the way back to the beginning and this is what the readings during Advent do for us. They take us back to the beginning. In Genesis, we read how God spoke his Word, creating us in friendship with himself so that we might life on this earth and someday be united in eternal happiness with God. All of this was marred by sin, but God’s love is greater than sin.

Only God could restore the harmony between the created world and its loving Creator. Only the power of God could heal so great a wound and make new what is broken. Thus in the divine plan, God would come among us, became one of us, and effect the healing in a way that combined both the power of God and the weakness of human nature.

Listen to how Jesus responds to John’s question: “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). God’s merciful love became incarnated in his Son and continues to be revealed in the followers of Jesus.

Advent reminds us that ours is an incarnational living faith. We manifest this in many ways and it might be something simple – lighting the Advent candles and offering a prayer, going Christmas caroling around the neighborhood or office, making a visit to church when it is quiet, or just sitting in front of the Christmas tree and expressing gratitude for so great a gift from God as Jesus. Perhaps even opening our hearts in Confession. Each of these in their own way tells ourselves and others our answer to the question, each offers our personal testimony to the world – Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God; he is the way, the truth and the life.

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