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St. John the Baptist, prophet of Advent and preacher of repentance

On the Readings for December 4, 2022, the Second Sunday of Advent

Detail from icon of St. John the Baptist (Лапоть/commons.wikimedia.org)

Readings:
• Isa 11:1-10
• Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
• Rom 15:4-9
• Mt 3:1-12

If you saw John the Baptist preaching on a street corner, what might you think of him? He would be a wiry man, wild in appearance, bearded and dressed in rough clothing. His message would be direct, but also mysterious: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He would offer free baptisms and would, from time to time, have less than kind words for various authorities who watched him baptize.

He would be, in today’s terms, a troublemaker, a religious fanatic, a fundamentalist, a narrow-minded zealot.

Jesus, however, told His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist…” (Matt 11:11). This wasn’t merely the affection of the Savior for His cousin, but a striking assertion of John’s place in salvation history. John the Baptist, like so many of the Old Testament prophets, was contrary and confrontational. He drew attention to things usually passed over in polite society, especially the reality of sin and the need for repentance. He denounced hypocrisy, spiritual sloth, and injustice.

And the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent—which contains the first mention of John in Scripture—describes him as the final and greatest forerunner of the Messiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert…”

In his book The Advent of Salvation, the great biblical scholar Jean Cardinal Daniélou wrote,

Since the coming of Christ goes on forever—He is always He who is to come in the world and in the Church—there is always an Advent going on, and this Advent is filled by John the Baptist. It is John the Baptist’s peculiar grace that he prepares the way for what is about to happen.

The Church has long made the connection between John the Baptist and Advent because John perfectly symbolizes—or, better, lives and expresses—the key themes of this season: anticipation, preparation, humility, repentance. His baptism was one of repentance, but he readily acknowledged that it would give way to the baptism of “the Holy Spirit and fire” offered by Jesus.

John, filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born, knew that his work was to prepare himself and others for the One who would offer the fullness of the Holy Spirit. “The fire of the Spirit dwells in him,” states the Catechism, “and makes him the forerunner of the coming Lord” (CCC 718). He, like all the prophets, pointed to the Messiah. And he, like all of God’s faithful, did the bidding of the Savior. But John, the Catechism also points out, was more than a prophet, for “with John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of ‘the divine likeness’” (CCC 720).

Drawing again from modern parlance, we might say that John the Baptist worked himself out of a job. Jesus, having declared the greatness of John, remarks, “yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt 11:11). How so? The greatness of John was in his faithfulness to the call of proclaiming the Son of God. But that does not match the greatness of those who, by grace, have been baptized into the life of the Son of God. They are filled with the divine life of God, made possible by the redemptive work of the Cross. The New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant, and it establishes the Kingdom of God, which is what John the Baptist and the other prophets anticipated and desired.

The heart of John is revealed beautifully in his statement, found in John’s Gospel, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). That is, I think, a perfect prayer for Advent. It speaks of a heart completely given to the Holy Spirit. It describes the essence of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. It reveals a man who speaks the truth in the wilderness, regardless of what everyone else on the street corner might think of him.


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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.

12 Comments

  1. Saint John The Baptist, Patron of Christlike Absolute Political INcorrectness, pray for us and help us follow your example and be strong, come life, suffering or death, that we may bring Highest Honor to Our Only Lord Jesus Christ!! Now and forever, Amen!!

  2. ‘Among those born of women ..’- would those words be an indirect reference to also the Immaculate Conception of Bl.Mother , which was not exactly carnal , as was in the case of John The Baptist ; such an understanding to help those who find it hard to accept the rightful place and role of Bl.Mother as advocated truthfully in
    The Church .
    The Baptist also had not yet received the infinite merits of The Passion – death and Resurrection of The Lord – that the Kingdom , which ofcourse he would later on and The Mother , The Queen of that Kingdom , whose voice is what filled Elisabeth with The Spirit , leading to the presanctification of The Baptist .
    May the voice of The Mother , that of The Church bring all the graces that The Father desires to bring into all our lives and families as well .

  3. “I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary ever virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, the holy apostles…”

    Thank you, Saint John the Baptist, for the example of your greatest prophet, who did what our Church leadership fails to do: standing up to tyrants, in the name of God.

  4. God Bless!
    The best prophet ever!
    I don’t know why others are more considerated, even when Jesus said what he said about him and cried, but anyway, doesn’t matter, the best.

  5. Malachi 3:24 is the very last verse of the Old Testament.

    Malachi 3:23
    Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, Before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day; He will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction.

    Matthew 11:14
    From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come.

    The Apostles were shocked when Jesus was leaving without doing all the things that scriptures Promised the Messiah would do upon His Coming.

    Acts of the Apostles 1:6 The Ascension of Jesus.
    When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

    Thus, the Advent Season was thrust right into the middle of the actual ‘Coming of the Lord’, while Jesus the Messiah, and John the Baptist who is Elijah, were still on earth. It would seem, to avoid the Malachi 3:24 “Lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction”, last Word of God from the Old Testament.

    This is just how extremely important the Advent Season, where we prepare ourselves in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and good deeds, is, in preparing the world for the Coming of Jesus our Messiah and Savior of the world. Thank You Jesus for gifting us with the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, which we use to prepare the earth for the Coming of Lord. Hallelujah!

    May the Coming of the Lord now Proceed! Hallelujah!

    http://www.apocalypseangel.com/married.html

  6. John, the fiery uncompromising prophet of the old that actually saw the Messiah during the new.
    What’s intriguing too is John approx 3 mo old initially recognized the Christ in Mary’s womb, Christ just recently conceived. It speaks to when life begins and more, when a person is more than potentially present. John ‘felt’ Jesus’ presence nearby, filled with joy making it known to Elizabeth.
    During his years in the remote desert John would communicate with Our Lord in the highest form of contemplative prayer. A true union of spirits the lesser with the highest. Deep humility, great love, a growing, burning intent to witness when Jesus appears. Olson captures this, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. John the Baptist “a heart completely given to the Holy Spirit”.
    We much lesser souls may realize somewhat of what John realized during that lengthy contemplation in the desert in our own makeshift desert.

  7. In fact, we need Jesus to come back so badly that (Christians, Jews, Muslims) he is a breath again, he is a hope again, he is a word of God, we will be his apostles again, inshallah

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