John 1. 6-8, 19-28
John the Baptist said, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “ Make straight the way of the Lord.”
The four Gospels agree that John wanted everyone to Repent and be baptised, He believed that ‘A day of wrath and doom impending’ was imminent, God’s Messiah would come as judge, ready to fan the fires of judgement which would burn up the wicked and purify those who were good. John called people to the Jordan River to be dipped in the water as a sign that they wanted to be cleansed and led by Joshua, that is Jesus, enter the Promised Land where God’s will is supreme.
Jesus in Nazareth heard the summons and made it his own. When he began his own mission his message like John’s was ‘Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.’
Yet John and Jesus were totally different characters. John was stern and ascetic . Jesus enjoyed feasting and opened his heart to all, good and bad. They gladly responded to his invitation to repent, although in the end both John and Jesus were killed by those who hated them.
John recognized that Jesus was his superior. How could he not when he had baptised Jesus and seen the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovering over Jesus and had heard God the Father declare that Jesus was his beloved Son. No wonder that John told his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God and encouraged them to follow Jesus rather than himself.
The buses in my home town, Halifax in West Yorkshire, have the town’s coat of arms painted on them: the severed head of St John the Baptist superimposed on the yellow and green chequers of the Earls Warrenne, who owned the town in Norman times. The ancient parish church is dedicated in the name of St John the Baptist. Many cities and towns also have the Baptist as their patron, including the city of Trier, established by the Romans on the River Moselle in Germany more than two thousand years ago.
I wonder whether the reason why so many places chose St John Baptist as their patron was that he robustly condemned religious leaders and public officials, such as soldiers and tax collectors for abusing their positions and maltreating citizens. John was brutally killed because he rebuked the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, for his incestuous marriage, contrary to the law of God. John stood for justice and good government. He is often depicted with a lamb as his emblem so woollen districts naturally chose him for their patron.
John Baptist’s voice has long been silenced but we hear him in Advent because he is speaking to us. Yes, we need to examine our attitudes and behaviour; we need to repent of our sins and recall our Baptism when our sins were forgiven and we promised to be faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. John declared that Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God whose blood, shed in sacrifice on the cross, protects us from evil and assures us of eternal life. The cross we members of CR received when we made our profession and now wear on our belts, bears the image of Christ crucified and on the reverse the lamb holding up the flag of victory. Do we frequently thank God for what this cross means to us?
Crispin Harrison CR