Saturday, June 23, 2007

John the Baptist

This past Thursday we had the longest day of the year—with just over fifteen hours of sunlight. For the rest of the year, until we celebrate the great feast of Christmas, we will lose a little bit of that light each day. And so it’s fitting that this Sunday we celebrate John the Baptist, who proclaimed that he had to decrease that Christ, the light of the world, could increase. John came not as the Light, but as witness to the true Light, Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist is the hinge that connects the Old Covenant with the New. He is the last and greatest of the prophets of Israel, and yet, his main role in the history of God’s salvation is to be the forerunner of Christ. For as the Gospel teaches us, in Jesus we have a prophet, and yes, more than a prophet.

By fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord…make straight a highway for our God,” John the Baptist sets up the means by which God will make the promises made to the little nation of Israel the inheritance of all the peoples of the world.

For in Christ, all of the promises made to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, and to David…all these promises burst out and become the hope of all the earth. Indeed, as Paul says in the second reading today, it was to the family of Abraham that “the word of salvation has been sent.” But it is in Christ that the first reading, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: that the people of Israel would be made a “light to the nations,” that God’s “salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.”

God promised to Abraham that he would be a great nation, and that God would settle him in a land of peace and prosperity. In Christ this promise becomes our own as heirs and citizens of the kingdom of God. No, it’s not a kingdom like the ones of this world, but it is a place we are to cultivate in our hearts, our families, and our communities, that, like John the Baptist, we may prepare a place for the Lord in this world.

Every Christian shares in the vocation of John the Baptist, as the forerunner of the Lord. Quoting the Gospel of John, the entrance antiphon for today’s Mass puts it quite simply: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came to bear witness to the Light, to prepare an upright people for the Lord.” All of us who know Christ are sent in the same way. We are to bear witness to the presence of God in the world, so that we may share in the raising up—the Resurrection—of this world in Christ.

Recall another line from John’s Gospel—one that we proclaim in every Mass as we prepare to receive Holy Communion. When John saw Jesus he announced, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

We share in this ministry of pointing out the Lamb of God! Sometimes people call this “naming grace.” It’s simply the practice of noticing that God is at work in the world. And it’s a practice we need, because the world is largely ignorant of God, and even we ourselves with all of our busyness and chatter often miss the presence of God.

Think about it. Even in the most war-torn and troubled places on earth people still insist on falling in love with each other. How can this be? Because the presence of God—who is love—is more powerful than any of the suffering we inflict on each other with our sins. Wherever there is compassion, wherever there is gentleness, forgiveness, and care, we know that it is the pure grace of the loving Mystery we call God.

It is up to us to imitate John the Baptist by naming this grace, by proclaiming to the world that the love of God is in its midst, especially when people don’t know it. In this ministry each one of us fulfills our vocation as forerunners of the Lord, as those who prepare a path for God in the world.

(Nativity of John the Baptist, Mass during the day)

1 comment:

Evelyn said...
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