Gospel John 1:6-8,19-28

‘Who are you?’

I like to think of John the Baptist as the patron saint of Advent. His whole purpose is to prepare the way for the coming Christ, and Advent is the time when we are called to do the same –so it is a pretty good match.

John is an intriguing and enigmatic figure, who despite being a real curiosity for the people is, to be perfectly honest, is not always likeable.

He appears in the wilderness and does odd things, and as we see in the passage before us today, gives cryptic answers to even the most rudimentary of questions.

John’s abrupt way of being makes his hearers a little unnerved. It pricks people’s consciences, startling them out of the monotony of their sinfulness and redirects them toward the one who is to come. Ultimately, his rather coarse manner of being sees him meet a pretty gruesome end.

But John’s mission was less about speaking truth to power and being an oddity for the people to gawk at. He preached and practiced a baptism similar to, but unlike our own. His Baptism was a baptism of repentance (cf Acts 19:4), and remained unfulfilled – pointing to the one who was to follow after, and to the baptism which he would initiate.

In Baptism we die to sin and are made anew in Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). John and his baptism point forward to the one who is to come and to his Baptism.

During Advent, when the Church puts before us a number of readings that speak of John the Baptist, we are called to enter anew into John’s baptism of repentance, so that we can receive again, with the coming of the Chirst-child, the new life He gives us in the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.

This is a time of waiting. We cannot confuse the signpost for the destination. John is not the Christ, but he is sent to help us make straight the path.

Point to Ponder

Among the beautiful prayers of this time let me pinpoint that of the second Wednesday of Advent: “Almighty God, you call us to prepare the way for Christ the Lord, let us not tire of waiting for the consoling presence of the heavenly doctor through the weakness of our faith.” That we may not tire of waiting, that is, that we may not get tired of entreating. Entreating for what? For His presence to free us, making us more affectionate towards Him; and our life will be more whole, outstretched to the Father’s will, and therefore to forgiveness and mutual help.

Our weakness can become an excuse to give up entreating in the face of all our forgetfulness and all our mistakes: as if Christ were not always a present spring of a greater energy than our fragility. – Luigi Giussani, On the Occasion of Advent, 1991