Second Sunday of Advent – 4 December 2016
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
Prepare a way for the Lord
In today’s Gospel we meet John the Baptist. Though the Gospel of Luke records that John was a cousin of Jesus, Matthew simply tells us that John ‘appeared’ in the wilderness of Judea, where he lived on locusts and wild honey, wore a garment of camel-hair and preached a message of repentance. He must have seemed a strange character to those who came across him, and yet we read that people from ‘Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him’, were baptised in the Jordan and confessed their sins. Despite his appearance and his alternative way of life John the Baptist and his message had an appeal that drew people to him.
What is it about people who live a bit removed from mainstream society? There is a certain mystique about their way of life, we are curious about what motivates and sustains them. And for their part they can offer an interesting view or perspective on the society they have stepped aside from. We need people who are able to step apart so as to have the space to reflect. Perhaps we need to step apart ourselves at times and go into the ‘wilderness’.
It would seem most likely that the first people to come to John were the ordinary, simple folk but when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees approaching him for baptism he challenged them and their apparent hypocrisy. We can presume that the Pharisees and Sadducees initially dismissed the Baptist, considering themselves superior to any wilderness preacher, but when they saw that he was attracting such crowds and gathering a following they didn’t want to lose their people, so they followed them. John launches into a long warning, directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees, but there is a message for all of us in what he says – if we really are repentant then we need to show it by a change of behaviour, ‘produce the fruit’ as he puts it, and not just do things for show.
John then reveals his mission – he is preparing the way for the one who will come after him. Matthew has already told us that the Baptist is the one referred to by the prophet Isaiah but now John himself tells us that the one who comes after him is more powerful – John is ‘not fit to carry his sandals’; John’s baptism is one of repentance, he will baptise ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’.
So what does John the Baptist have to say to us today as we travel on our Advent journey? Perhaps there are three messages that we can receive from him. The first is that we have to ‘prepare a way for the Lord’. This preparation could take many different forms, but without some preparation we will not be ready for the coming of the Lord. The second is to be able to recognise the Lord when he comes. The Lord comes to us in many different ways, through people and events, both great and small, and we need to be able to recognise the coming of the Lord. The third message that we can take from John the Baptist is to allow the Lord to take over in our lives – to accept that he is greater and more powerful than us and so we must allow him to increase while we decrease.
Fr Richard Purcell ocso