All right … let me begin by admitting that I’m feeling more than just a touch of resentment right now.
There’s nothing a child likes less than to be told, “You’ll understand this
once you’re a grown-up.” Unfortunately, too many parents use this line as
a way to avoid talking with their daughters and sons about serious issues.
Since the excuse is pretty transparent, even to the children, they … that
is, we … grow up suspecting that every such remark from our elders is a cop-out.
So, when I read in 1 John that “we are God’s children now; what we shall
be has not yet been revealed,” up go my defenses! The writer does at least
use the pronoun we, I suppose. But just replace we with you and what do we
have? “You are God’s child; you’re not yet old enough to understand grown-up
And while we’re about it, I also have a problem with the version of the story
of John the Baptist that forms today’s second reading. To be more precise,
I’m distinctly jealous of John, who seems to have been handed a way to cheat
on the quiz. He’s pretty frank, after all, in admitting that he didn’t originally
have the answer to the most important question on the page: “I did not know
[Jesus],” he says. Luckily for him, though, the Holy Spirit not only
told him what was about to happen but “[came] down like a dove … and [remained]
upon [Jesus].” Hard to mistake a sign like that!
So who says I’m not big enough to understand what grown-ups talk about? And
why don’t I ever get dramatic signals from the Almighty about what I’m supposed
to do with my life? Why is “revelation” something that happens only to other
folks? It all seems pretty unfair.
The reflections that appear on this site have to be submitted a couple of
weeks ahead of time, so I am writing these paragraphs in the middle of Advent.
Advent is of course a season of penitential reflection—and it may indeed
be that I should be asking forgiveness for some of the emotional reactions
that I outlined above!
But Advent is also the season when we celebrate the birth of a tiny child
whose arrival among us answers all the questions and “reveals” the truth
in a form that just about anyone can understand.
The writer of 1 John may tell me I am a child, but God took the form of a
child so that we might see and imitate what we may never fully understand
in our time on this earth, so that we might see the truth without having
to have things revealed to us. And that, I suggest, is the most marvelous
of the “marvelous deeds” of which the psalmist sings today.