“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,” (Is. 61:1) proclaimed the prophet Isaiah in the first reading of the third Sunday of Advent.
Back in my university days, I wasn't particularly attached to the Bible. I was more interested in reading philosophy. But Isaiah’s prophetic passage above never failed to touch me deeply whenever I heard it proclaimed. When recited by Luke in his gospel within the setting of Jesus standing in a synagogue, slowly unrolling a scroll of Isaiah, and reading it out to an enchanted and expectant congregation on Sabbath, the prophetic passage took on a new meaning of fulfillment (c.f. Luke 4:16-21) - fulfilled not only in the very person who read it, i.e. Jesus, the Anointed One, but also in the listener to whom it was proclaimed, i.e. me.
I, a foreign student struggling to make ends meet, was the poor; not only because of corporeal deprivation but also because of spiritual destitution. I was the brokenhearted, not only because my life then was filled with hardships but also because the deepest yearnings of my young heart – for love and dignity, for justice and righteousness, for happiness and the truth – somehow just could not be satisfied. I was the captive, captive of so many unrealistic dreams, captive of my own youthful passions. I was the prisoner, chained hands and feet by sin, incarcerated body and soul by the unrelenting grip of death. I was in dire need of the Anointed One’s glad tidings, healing, liberation, and freedom.
When my university chaplain, a young and exceedingly kind Basilian priest whose mission it was to help the lowly and marginalized, told me that in Jesus I could find my glad-tidings Provider, my Healer, my Liberator, and my Freedom, I dived right into his RCIA to find out whether Jesus was really the Savior who could solve all my personal problems. Finally at the Easter of my third year of university, I was baptized into the Catholic Church. Here I am 37 years later, I can honestly say that Jesus has given me everything Isaiah promised and more. There is not a day my heart doesn’t rejoice together with Mary, his mother, in the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
Yet our journey of faith is a long one, full of ups and downs and potential pitfalls. Like John the Baptist in the gospel reading, we must properly discern the role that God in His infinite wisdom wants each one of us to do. John identified his role as “the voice of one crying out in the desert”; he saw himself as the precursor that “make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23). He was determined to serve the Lord in this humble capacity even though many of his followers wanted to make him the Messiah. In this Advent, let us discern with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit what our role is. What is the ministry that God wants us to serve? And in serving it, “may the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you…be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes 5:23).