The Challenge of John the Baptist
Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; Mk 1,1-8
On this Second Sunday of Advent we continue to reflect on the Lord’s Second Coming and we have John the Baptist to help us.
The Evangelist Mark is assigned the symbol of a winged lion. It is precisely because he starts his Gospel with John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness, just like a lion.
The Evangelist Mark opens the Gospel, the Good News that the Lord is coming and that there is something we need to do to prepare to welcome Him, by recounting the prophesy of Isaiah and introduces us to John crying out and exhorting people.
St Benedict, like Mark, opens the prologue to introduce the Monastic Rule with an exhortation:
LISTEN carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
On this second Sunday of the new liturgical year, we are introduced to John the Baptist who challenges on two levels. We are introduced to John who prepares the people to receive his cousin Jesus, the Messiah. John tells that the one coming after him is so mightier than him that he is not fit to even untie His sandals.
This is the first level challenge that John presents. His actual mission of preparing a people for the Lord’s coming. And putting this in the liturgical context of this second week of Advent, John helps us to prepare to welcome the Lord’s second coming. John gives us the image of leveling the road, the path that the Messiah will take to reach us. We only have to listen to his cries.
Have you imagined how many times Dr. Evans Road that cuts through our Mepkin property has been paved? This road has gone through a lot of improvement. I imagine it just as a foot trail that the Native Americans cleared hundreds of years ago, then widened for horse travel. Soon it was a significant road called Strawberry Ferry Road for horse-drawn carriages leading to the ferry port at the bank of Cooper River in the time of Henry Laurens who founded the Mepkin Plantation. Then more than half a century ago this road was renamed Dr. Evans Road to honor the prominent African American doctor who lived along this road, in the time that Clare Boothe Luce and Henry Luce donated this property that became Mepkin Abbey. Now it is a well-paved asphalt road that continues to conduct people to many destinations. Yes, the road has seen significant improvements for the benefit of commuters. If the Pope were to go through this road, I bet even the roadside would be decorated. This is the image that John gives us: that we need to pave the road that would conduct the Lord to us. How cleared, leveled, and paved is this path of our person for receiving Christ our Lord?
Let us take time to recall and thank the people who through the years had been like John to us- pointing out how we can grow to welcome Christ.
Corollary to this challenge that John exhorts us to is how we also take up the task of accompanying others in also preparing the road that Christ would take to reach them. God forbid that we become the source of what clutters their lives, their minds and hearts.
Another level of challenge that John presents us is the dynamics of proclaiming and listening. And at this point in our life, what and whom do we listen to? For what? How much attention and significance do we give to what and whom we listen to? Would they lead us to welcome Christ? What movement of the mind and heart do they harken us to?
What wilderness do we find ourselves in where we hear John beckoning to us? From what wilderness do we need to accompany others out of? What Good News do we bring to all the pains, fears, desolation, and anxieties all around us? How do we make the Good News of our faith relevant to what bothers the world? Why does bad news seem to proliferate more easily? Now we know how badly the Good News of God’s Kingdom is needed right now!
The Lord comes to comfort us and He emboldens us to join in proclaiming His coming. With the Psalmist, we plead that the Lord show us his kindness and grant us his salvation. As St Peter, in his Letter exhorts, we await new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwell … and since we await these things, let us be eager to be found without spot or blemish and at peace….