We know that the word advent itself means “coming” and that Advent in the church year is meant to be a time of contemplation and anticipation with the shadow of the Lord’s birth in the offing. During Advent we are showered with images of light, change, and announcement. We celebrate The Immaculate Conception, Juan Diego Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Nicholas, Saint Lucy and Gaudete (joy) Sunday. But nowhere do we really celebrate the Saint John the Baptist. As a matter of fact, he gets one reading on the Second Sunday of Advent and and a few others during that week.
Have you given any thought to the fact that the baby John was actually the first one on earth to leap for joy at the coming of the Lord. He did that while still in his Mother’s womb! Like his cousin he was born for one expressed purpose on Earth. It was to announce the coming of the Lord. So strong was his role as pre-cursor that before he was even born, the occurrences around what he was to be called have an oddly “Trinitarian” shading to them. Three times, in the Book of Luke, definitive instructions are given as to what his name will be, first by the Angel Gabriel, next by his Mother Elizabeth and last by his Father Zechariah. The third of which is accompanied by a spectacular “recovery of speech” when the baby’s name is emphatically declared. It was as if nothing at all could be stated until it was clear that John was John! In Hebrew the name John means “God is gracious”. His name could not have been a more perfect introduction to the “one who came after him”, Jesus, who’s name in Hebrew means “God Saves”. So between the cousins, John literally preceding Christ in age by around eight or nine months you have: God is gracious, God saves. Quite a message to the world and no mistake of nomenclature!
By the evidence given in scripture we can say that John’s ministry and preaching were fierce. He neither cared about the “fashion of the day” or “political correctness”. He dressed oddly and ate a strange diet. He was widely traveled in the region of the Jordan and unabashedly proclaimed that everyone needed the “baptism of repentance” for the forgiveness of sins. He had the nerve to declare himself the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy; “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the lord, make straight his paths’” (Lk 3:4 NAB). In those days, to claim that you were in the same league as a revered prophet was as close to blasphemy as you could get.
Despite this, John’s ministry flourished and people flocked to his remote locations in droves. Scholars opine that it is entirely possible that he baptized thousands of people. Even in his ministry John was fanatically single minded. He had to get all these people prepared because he knew that the Messiah was right on his heels and his job was preparation for as many as he could reach. The only thing he cared about was preparing people’s minds and hearts for the Messiah. He preached a hard word meant to make people step back and make serious considerations about their lives and their readiness to meet the Living God. “He said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance’” (Lk 3:7-8). He cared little for the “appearance” of sincerity from the people who traveled to reach him. Even the King was oddly attracted and disturbed by his preaching. This contributed directly to John’s death. He did not hesitate to lambaste the rich and powerful who were among the crowds that came to see him: “ Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise. Stop collecting more than what is prescribed. … Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone and be satisfied with your wages” (Lk 3:11-14).
So John had a laser like focus on the need to prepare for the “coming”. Literally nothing could dissuade him from his task. When his job was done and he finally encountered the Messiah he had the extraordinary grace to realize that it was time to exit the picture rather than collect more “fame” which he could have easily done. He clearly delivers this message to his upset disciples as he tells them: “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).
So, as we are immersed in Advent ask yourselves these questions: How important is the coming of the Messiah to you? Is the pending Birth of the Messiah more important or less important than gifts, new clothes, appearances, money? When someone questions or challenges your practice of religion do you “defend the faith” with laser like focus? During this Advent, how many people have you told that Jesus is coming? When people fuss about political correctness or freedom from religion do you gently but firmly tell them that whether they believe it or not, Jesus is the Savoir of the World? When someone of faith corrects or gives you a "hard word" do you immediately dismiss it as an error or do you add it to your considerations? Would you openly admit to being Catholic at peril of your life or status in a social situation? As God calls you nearer are you totally willing to become “less important”?
John met and owned up to all of these situations with not a tick of hesitation. He was the precursor every single moment of his life, beginning in the womb. He is our perfect example of a life that is Advent. As Advent people the Lord expects nothing less of us. As Catholics it is our job in the world to be the precursors and carry on John’s work. He lived Advent, he breathed Advent. He is the perfect Saint of Advent. He can teach us all the courage and fortitude that we need to be an Advent people 24/7. Saint John the Baptist is a great example for us not just during this season, but every day of our lives!
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