Sunday’s Gospel Reflection
John the Baptist is a fitting messenger for the season of Advent, a time for the church to prepare for both the nativity of the Christ and for his second coming. John’s call to repentance in preparation of Jesus’ arrival carries a challenge for us to rid ourselves of everything that obstructs our view. His proclamation is filled with images of cleansing: straightening paths, cutting down useless trees, and burning away chaff. John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins means cleansing as well as a changing of the mind, a turning toward Jesus, so that one’s whole self is pointed toward the Lord of this world and of eternity.
Undistracted even by thoughts of our own worthiness, the church’s focus year round is turned toward the coming of Christ. John points to Jesus, never to himself, and in so doing becomes a model for discipleship. Having heard John’s cry, we join the chorus, becoming messengers in turn. All our efforts in worship and evangelism, education and social ministry point, not to ourselves, our programs, our skill or our saintliness, but only to Jesus. Preparing the way of the Lord is very much about pointing others to his real presence in and among us.
This Sunday’s Isaiah reading (“the grass withers, the flower fades”) and that of 2 Peter (“all things are to be dissolved”) reinforce the church’s teaching that amidst all that is transient in our lives, and creation, only God’s word is eternal. John the Baptist’s testimony points us to that Word made flesh, who brings with him a new heaven and a new earth after all else has passed away. John directs us in our faith journeys as individuals and communities toward a witness that is forever pointing to Jesus.