In this week’s Gospel Reading and next week’s, our Advent preparation for Christmas invites us to consider John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus. In this week’s Gospel, Matthew describes the work and preaching of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist appears in the tradition of. the great prophets of Israel preaching repentance and reform to the people of Israel. If fact, the description of John found in this reading is reminiscent of the description of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:18). In this reading, John directs a particularly pointed call to repentance to the Pharisees and Sadducees, parties within the Jewish community of the first century.
John marks the conversion of those who seek him out with a baptism of repentance. Other groups in this period are thought to have practiced ritual washings for similar purposes, and John’s baptism. In this passage, John himself alludes to the difference between his baptism and the one yet to come: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
In this reading, John makes very clear that his relationship to the Messiah yet to come (Jesus) is one of service and subservience: “…the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” (Matthew 3:11). In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, today’s passage is followed by Jesus’ baptism by John, an event that is attested to in all four of the Gospels and appears to have been the start of Jesus’ public ministry.
John’s preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of the Advent Season. As John’s message prepared the way for Jesus in the first century, we, too, are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming. We respond to John’s message by our repentance and reform our lives. We are also called to be prophets of Christ, who announce by our lives, as John did, the coming of the Lord.
We do many things to get ourselves ready for our celebration of Christmas: purchase gifts, prepare Christmas cards, decorate our homes. John’s call of repentance in preparation for Jesus reminds us that our repentance is another way in which we can prepare for the Lord’s coming and our celebration of Christmas.
One way of preparation would be to participate in the Day of Grace and Reconciliation (Dec. 10) and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. During this week, think about how you can best prepare spiritually for the coming of Jesus. Perhaps there is an elderly person in your family or neighbourhood who could use some help in getting ready for Christmas. It could be as simple as offering a prayer for someone who has hurt you or you are at odds with. Let us pray for our Parish community during this second week of Advent.