PREPARING THE WAY
If we only had the gospel of Mark we may not be celebrating Christmas. Mark begins his gospel with John the Baptist fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah about a voice crying in the wilderness calling people to prepare the way of the Lord. Mark makes no mention of Bethlehem, accommodation shortages, mangers, shepherds, angelic choirs. He says nothing about magi (wise men) coming from the East, Herod causing mayhem as he slaughters baby boys who may challenge him on his throne. Mark like John is not interested in Jesus as a baby or the circumstances of his conception or birth and childhood.
The absence of this part of the life of Jesus is another reminder that each evangelist was not writing the biography of Jesus. Each of them, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, were more like theologians who wanted people to know who Jesus was and how well founded their faith in him was. They were members of communities of believers who celebrated what would come to be known as the Eucharist, gathered on Sundays for these celebrations, looked after the poor and needy, initiated people into the community with baptism and anointing with oil so that the Lord’s Spirit would disappear inside like the oil disappearing into their skin but making its mark. Christ’s Spirit brought them alive to act like Jesus, softened them as surely as oil softens dry and hardened skin.
The Advent liturgy does not forget John the Baptist, the one who opens the gospel of Mark. The only son of the priest Zechariah and Elizabeth, kinfolk of Mary, who lived in the wilderness and exercised a ministry of preaching that the kingdom was coming and immersed people in water as a sign that they were leaving sinful attitudes and actions behind – a baptism of repentance.
John was in no doubt about the part he played in the coming of this new relationship with God, this kingdom. He said and said openly that he was not the one who would usher in this kingdom. His role was to prepare the way for the messiah. Little did he suspect that his kinsman, Jesus, was the one. Not until Jesus was baptised and the voice of God announced who he was did John become aware of something of the true identity and mission of Jesus.
John with his wilderness life, strange clothes and Spartan food, came like the rebirth of some of the ancient prophets. These men challenged the rulers of their day demanding that the rulers stay faithful to the shepherd like care God wanted them to show the people entrusted to them. The prophets were the conscience of the nation. John the Baptist played a similar role.
John brought to life what Isaiah had said centuries before. Here is your God … like a shepherd …console the people …speak to the heart of the nation … subdue everything that would take people away from God. St Peter could see in Jesus and the early church communities the emergence of a new earth and a new heaven. Populated by men and women living holy and saintly lives, something new was born and growing.
There is no place for John the Baptist in the nativity scenes we put up in the church or at home. At the time of the birth of Jesus he was only a baby himself. As an adult he is a vital player in people coming to faith in Jesus, the Christ (messiah). His call to change rings in our ears. As Advent continues heed the call and change to allow people to be consoled and strengthened.
Fr Adrian Farrelly
|Dec 12, 2014||Second Sunday of Advent 07.12.2014||Listen||Download|