John the Baptist Baptizes Jesus, Church of St. John the Baptist, Miami Shores, Florida, USA.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. Mark 1:1.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
Today’s gospel is taken from Mark. It is the shortest of the four gospels, and is universally considered to be the first written down, hence the oldest of the four. As you can see above, it is very first verse and it goes straight to the mission of Jesus, grown up, and being baptized by John in the Jordan. Mark’s gospel also ends, in the oldest editions we have, with the empty tomb. Hence no angels, wise men, the child Jesus in the Temple, appearances after the resurrection and so on. It is, then, the essential gospel stripped of many of the most treasured scenes we have, including Christmas itself! Mark gets down to the basics immediately, with Jesus discovering at about the age of 30, that he was the long-awaited Messiah, and indeed, was the Son of God. Both of these realizations came at his baptism. And it was John the Baptist who was instrumental in those revelations. And John was acutely aware of his mission, seen from his words in today’s gospel, that he was simply the one to introduce the Messiah to the world, and that was his prime mission. In the prayer called the Benedictus, which priests the world over recite in their morning office, as it is called, it says:
As for you, little child,
you shall be called a prophet of God, the Most High.
You shall go ahead of the Lord
To prepare his ways before him.
To make known to his people their salvation
Through forgiveness of all their sins,
The loving-kindness of the heart of our God
Who visits us like the dawn from on high. Luke 1:76-78
It was Zechariah, John’s father, who spoke these words over his newborn son, born of his wife Elizabeth “She who was thought to be barren” (Luke 1:36). He states clearly and succinctly what John’s vocation in life was to be. And so it was.
Last Sunday’s commentary suggested that Advent was a time of reflection for us followers of the Lord. It was a time of opportunity to clean out our spiritual house in preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child in our midst. In that way, we will be all the more strong to fulfill our vocation, to be Christ to the world. Today’s gospel, I think, expands that thought into the real world. Yes, we are to be Christ to the world, but what does that mean? It is, I believe, to act as John the Baptist, and take in those words above from the Benedictus, and apply them every day to ourselves. We, as Christ to the world, by our example, our behavior, our words, our example, must prepare the way of the Lord to inspire those who see us, see how we live our lives in such a good and happy way that they too want to follow him. Hence each one of us is to be “a prophet of God, the Most High” and become, as John the Baptist was, a beacon of light, truth and faith to those around us. Not “holy Joes” but people who are content, accepting, confident and welcoming to all around in the way we approach people, in what we say and do and how we welcome all into our lives. So this, I believe, is the message of this second Advent Sunday. We are, each of us, to be as John the Baptist, following such a life that is strongly attractive to those around us. For them to see that this strength comes from a source of energy outside ourselves, with us happy to have it so. It’s a tricky path to follow, but our perfect model, the Lord himself, has promised that we are never alone. John the Baptist was the source of the Lord’s title as the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He saw himself as the one who would lead others to him, so that Jesus “must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). He led others to the Lord, which he saw as his vocation. That, I believe, is ours also. The Lord will be with us on this path at all times, to help us, to pick us up when we fall, to strengthen us with his sacred food and to sustain us at all times. Thanks be to God!
Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God), Domenichino 1626, Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Rome, Italy.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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