Growing up as a child, “superheroes” were always a simple fascination for the inquisitive mind. Quite a number of these superheroes came in pairs and this made them even more fascinating. For instance, we cannot speak of Lone Ranger if there is no mention of Tonto; surely Batman needed Robin and Starsky relied on Hutch, while Ponch had Jon in his corner in CHiPs and more recently, Green Hornet and Kato. It is always the case that we cannot speak of one without the other or else the story would be incomplete.
Our gospel this Sunday presents John the Baptist, and the Christmas story would be incomplete if we did not make mention of him. Though the John that we are introduced to today is the adult John the Baptist, long after the birth of Jesus. We know that when Mary visited Elizabeth, a relationship between Jesus and John had been established from the moment of conception.
One may ask what is the significance of John the Baptist in the Advent journey? Firstly, Advent deals not only with Jesus’ first coming as the babe of Bethlehem in the middle of salvation history but also with His Second Coming at the end of salvation history; secondly, John the Baptist is the last of the old covenant prophets; thirdly, John the Baptist is Jesus’ forerunner in birth, message, and death. Perhaps we now understand better why John the Baptist is included in our journey towards Christmas.
We must remember that John the Baptist is neither Jesus’ sidekick nor the “opening act” before the “main show” begins. Though John fully accepted his subordinate role to Christ, in his own right, he had a mission to accomplish before Jesus started His public ministry. Mark’s inclusion of the quote from the Old Testament (cf. Isa 40:3, Ex 23:20, Mal 3:1) before introducing John is to give him prophetic authority – a man sent from God. John’s mission as the messenger to announce the coming of Jesus was already foretold and not merely an afterthought in God’s plan of salvation.
The message of John needs no deciphering. It is clear – repentance! When we prepare for Easter by the observance of Lent, we traditionally know that it is a time of penance and mortification. However, the season of Advent too, includes an invitation to personal penance and reconciliation with God and neighbour. Often the “penitential” nature of Advent escapes us because as soon as we enter in this season, the countdown for Christmas has already begun.
Just like all the people of Jerusalem who made their way towards John the Baptist two thousand years ago, we too are being reminded to renew the spirit of our own baptism so that we can, in our own way can change our lives, give up sinful, selfish ways of living and turn to God becoming forerunners and witnesses to the second coming of Christ. As we prepare for the “Christ event”, just like John who offered himself as a faithful witness to Christ, we too can witness to Christ by demonstrating the love of God and the generosity of Christ to those in need during this time of the pandemic.
John the Baptist was a heroic witness to the Light and we too can exemplify John’s witnessing. Our world is in need of “superheroes” to make God’s story of love concrete because the incarnation is not just a mystery of our faith to be professed and celebrated, but is it to be “made flesh” in daily life. As followers of Jesus, we are not “sidekicks” to the story of salvation but protagonists in the mission of Christ. Even though John the Baptist’s ministry can be considered transitional, the impact of his life and ministry should not be underestimated. Similarly, our mission to pave the way for the second coming of the Messiah must consume us as we look to the baby in the manger – the Saviour of the world!
Second Sunday of Advent (6 Dec 2020)