This is part three of our four part Advent series, reflecting on peace and justice from our perspective working with local peacemakers in Colombia. Each piece reflects on the following Sunday’s Gospel reading. Please read and share with your family, friends, co-workers, and faith community.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. – John 1:6-8; 19-28
Witness To The Arriving Christ – by Caldwell ‘Carlos’ Manners
Life (20:31) stands as the central theme in John’s gospel, and it is in and through the incarnate Christ that this life of abundance (10:10) is manifest and brought into reality. It is in this overarching theme that the narrator compels us into a world of contesting powers – transports us through time to the beginning, when all things came into being. The one journeying from heaven to earth is rejected by his own and is forced to embark on conferring childhood rights to all those who believe in him- stirring contrasting images: the violator and the violated, the powerful and the powerless, the colonizers and colonized. It is in these spaces and dimensions of travel, as it unfolds throughout the gospel that we like John are witnesses.1
I remember my first impressions of travelling through the Colombian landscape, rural or urban – it was difficult to notice the continuing legacy of the brutality and violence of the conflict of the last half century in a location so stunningly beautiful. This is where the contesting images and narratives of progress continue to drown the cries of justice through the continual violation of the land and its inhabitants in the mix of militarism and business. In these locations the narrator of John draws us to travel, to witness to the life arriving.
The community from Las Pavas finds itself once again in the spaces of contesting powers. They were displaced by brutal paramilitary forces in 2006, evicted by Daabon, a palm oil company in 2009, and lived a miracle of return earlier this year. Now they’re being accused of being liars, “false victims” as the prosecutor general calls them. This incident cannot be understood as an isolated event but as a reflection of the state of the 5 million displaced peoples demanding for justice, and now communities that still have possession of their lands are resisting, hoping that they will not be next. The process of dispossession and displacement works only with roots that run deep into the heart of the powers.
John stood as a witness awaiting the coming Christ in a time where the Roman occupation alliance ran deep into the heart of the temple powers profiteering from the powerless and the most vulnerable. It was also here that he witnessed to hope: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”
The communities we accompany have deeply impacted me by their profound understanding of life, the witness to hope that is brought forth in their struggle for justice – and the testimony of the ordinary day is the most profound response to the disruptive violence and death.
The profound contrast in the invitation to witness lies at the end of the story, John is executed but life arrives. The anticipation of the coming Lord fills me with both deep sadness and profound joy – in death we find life, in loosing it we find it – necessitating our response. The fierceness for life in the faces of the communities is the witness to the coming Christ, it is the embodiment of the life arrived.
In these paradoxes is where you and I travel. To witness alongside our partners in the violent spaces of power to the hope that is arriving, to be in solidarity with, and to witness: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”
To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget. – Arundhati Roy
Let Us Pray
Spirit of God, You are Love
teach me the art of loving my sisters and my brothers,
to listen to their needs and take care of them,
to be just and merciful every day of my life
while waiting for the glorious coming of the Lord Jesus.
Spirit of God, You are Lord and Giver of Life
Deliver me from sin and despair, of half-heartedness
and anything else that prevents me from living fully
as a true child of God,
while waiting for the glorious coming of the Lord Jesus.
Spirit of God, You are the Teacher Within
Remember the words of the Carpenter of Nazareth
and teach me his ways to live according to his will,
while waiting for his glorious coming at the end of time.
Spirit of God, You who reveals the Truth
deliver me from all obscurity and error
and help me understand the Good News of Hope
while I await the glorious return of Jesus Christ.
Spirit of God, You who prays in us
with sighs unimaginable,
Put a cry on our lips: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Put a hope in our hearts: “The Lord will come.”
May the Lord come to us, today and forever.
We await his coming in glory.
We await your salvation and everlasting life you promise us. Amen.
1Refer to Dube, Musa and Jeffery Statley, John and Postcolonialism: Travel, Space and Power. Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.