Advent Figures: John the Baptist

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!

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Central to the Season of Advent is the figure of John the Baptist, the child of Zachary and Elisabeth, born to them in their later years.  John was a man of destiny appointed by God and would be described by Christ himself as ‘the last and the greatest of the prophets.’

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We are to see John therefore as a hinge, the link between all those great figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Moses, David and Isaiah, and Jesus Christ who fulfilled all the promises of that first Testament and ushered in the New.

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The Church has always treasured and revered John the Baptist. He was a fiery and no-nonsense preacher, lived an ascetic life reminiscent of the great prophet Elijah, and called the people of his time to depart from their sinful ways and return to the Lord. John proclaimed his uncompromising message close to the river Jordan, and administered a form of baptism, symbolising their new state of purification in readiness for the arrival of someone infinitely greater than himself.

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John’s greatness and divine prophetic mission consisted in his role of witness, both in his life and in his death. We are very familiar from the liturgy with John’s declaration: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’, which sums up the essential purpose of his life –  to point out and bear witness to the Son of God.

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Once John had given his testimony to Jesus he withdrew from the scene. The gospels relate how Herod Antipas had him imprisoned for speaking out against his unlawful union with his brother’s wife, and he was executed at the behest of Herod’s enraged partner. A dismal end for such a distinguished prophet, but a death which the liturgy calls his last and greatest act of witness.

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What can we believers learn from John today so as to nourish and strengthen our faith?  The first lesson would be to accept the Baptist’s summon to conversion as we await the coming of Christ at Christmas.

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The Jubilee Year of Mercy is just beginning, and highly recommended by the Holy Father is a good sacramental Confession. What a marvellous preparation that would be for the Lord’s birthday!  Also, there was no place for pride and ambition in John’s preaching. Many took him to be the Messiah, but he declared in the most emphatic terms that he was but a herald or forerunner, and not worthy even to undo the sandals of the One who was coming.

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Christ for John had to come first. He had got his priorities right. We, likewise, must keep our gaze firmly fixed on Christ, as Pope Francis keeps repeating, then we shall know peace of mind as we go about our daily lives.

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By his preaching, his life, and his death, John was a witness to Christ to the world of his day.  That precisely is the vocation of each one of us wherever we are and in whatever situation we find ourselves. This Christmas Christ desires to be born again into the world – but it will be primarily through the goodness and witness of our lives. We pray that Saint John the Baptist may assist us by his prayers to courageously point out once more this Christmas time the Lamb of God, the saviour of the world.  Saint John the Baptist, pray for us!

Until next week – may God bless you all,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster