As John the Baptist provided much of our Gospel reflection for the Advent Season, it seems most fitting that as we end this Christmas Season we are challenged yet again by John. As John undertook the mission of preparing the people for the coming of Jesus, his message remains timeless. Since each age and all people need to be prepared to hear the Gospel, John’s message spans millennia to offering wisdom and warning in understanding Jesus.
John reminds us that we need to look in the right places to find the Lord. John was a mesmerizing teacher and offered to the people a Baptism leading to the forgiveness of their sins. People came from throughout the region to find John in the desert and to hear the message he preached. He wasn’t telling them so much what they “wanted to hear” but what they needed to hear. John challenged them to holiness above and beyond that which was demanded by the Pharisees and Sadducees, or envisioned in the Law and Prophets.
John also warns the crowd about their need to approach the coming Messiah with proper awe and reverence. John did not claim to have an intimate friendship with the Messiah, nor did he lead the people down a path that suggested that everything would be right with them if they remained in their sins. Rather he knew that the Messiah, as the Son of God, was greater than he and that his message would be demanding.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are called to consider the implications of our own Baptism in our everyday lives.
We are challenged to take our faith seriously, to put it into active practice, and to make it the very rhythm of our daily lives. We do this first by confronting our own weakness and sinfulness and then seeking sacramental forgiveness and absolution. John called the people of his time to a right relationship with God. Having been baptized, they needed to present themselves to the priests at the temple to make the due sacrifice for their sins. We, too, need to ensure that we have a right relationship with God. This demands honest examination of conscience and reflection on our sinfulness. We do this on God’s terms, not ours.
Those who came to be baptized by John knew they were sinners in need of forgiveness. If John was preaching by our rivers this weekend most of us would not feel compelled to go and hear him. Perhaps we have failed to properly reflect on our own lives, and just as likely we are so presumptive of God’s love and mercy that we feel that self-reflection, contrition, and confession are unnecessary. This failure has also led us to such a sense of familiarity with the Lord that we miss the point that we, too, are unworthy as servants. If John couldn’t do it, then certainly none of us could be worthy to tie the sandals of the Lord.
We fail then to heed the message of John – a message that was set forth to us through our own Baptism. That as disciples of the Lord, we owe him due reverence and that while we are not ourselves worthy to do so, it is through our sharing in his Passion and Death that our sins are forgiven, and that we can be made whole.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.