Updated: Dec 5, 2018
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of John the Baptist. Because Jesus ‘stole the show’, we tend to forget sometimes what a mighty and important figure John was. If we forget that, then we will be reminded over these next two Sundays in Advent.
While everyone wants to rush to the story of the birth of Jesus, the Church spends two weeks – yes two of the precious four Sundays – focusing on John the Baptist (typically awkward).
The gospel writers couldn’t ignore this strange figure partly because of the role he played in preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah and partly because practically everywhere the early disciples went in preaching the Good News they came across his disciples. As the Church came to understand Jesus and his mission more fully and more personally, so we understood John the Baptist’s role more and more.
Those who answered the Baptist’s call were, like those who listened to Jesus, all sorts. They recognized something in his message and their own need for a fresh start. This John provided with his baptism of repentance: a concrete sign that someone had decided in their heart for God and a shown a desire for something more, something new.
We might think that we’ve ‘outgrown’ John: the time of preparation is over, and we have Jesus now. It was alright for the folk at the time, but we have the advantage of being saved, so we are OK. If we think that, then we’ve missed the point of Advent, and indeed the whole idea of having seasons in the Church’s year. Yes, Jesus is present to us, but we can meet him so often without knowing it because our hearts and minds are elsewhere.
Just as two thousand years ago, when John’s cry went out to a people who needed to see a way through the chaos of their political, social and individual lives, so today his cry reminds us that unless we stop and listen, we will pass Christ by and not see our way forward.
If you can, read this week’s coming gospel. John gets a great introduction. Sure, some of the historical facts are a little fuzzy, but what Luke really wants to tell us is that the rich and powerful do not have the answer and that our time has been ‘taken over’ by God’s time.
Spend some time thinking about where you are in your life’s journey. Does it seem that time is slipping away? Stop for a few moments and listen to the call of John the Baptist as he asks you to prepare to meet Christ.