TEXT: The Holy Gospel of Saint John 1:6-8; 19-28, RSV
Cardinal Newman once said in his Essays: Critical and Historical, "We ought not to be sanguine about anything; the right rule is to hope nothing, to fear nothing, to be prepared for everything."
This is probably good advice in terms of taking nothing for granted, but always being prepared for anything that might happen. We are to fear no man -- and to be prepared for anything that might come our way. God is in control.
St. John the Baptizer was such a man who desired to be prepared for the coming Messiah.
His task was to be the Forerunner of Jesus, announcing the Way of the Lord, our Immanuel.
He was the voice of one crying out in the desert, this hermit that preached in the wilderness, this "wild man" of God who was so full of the Holy Spirit! John was a hermit kind of prophet who did not fit into the conventions of his day -- he lived completely for God!
(May more (we might hope and pray) come like him to the pulpits of the Holy Catholic Church!)
The Church has needed men of prophetic voice like St. John the Baptizer to prepare "stone hard" hearts to meet our God and Savior, the King of kings and Lord of lords!
Jean Pierre Camus said, in (The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales," 16, 6),
"We usually know what we ought to do, but we rarely know what we should do; it is always a sign of presumption to imagine ourselves able to handle hot coals without burning ourselves."
One did not come into the presence of St. John the Baptizer without being "burnt" within the heart and soul and conscience, because he preached a very forthright message to his "parishioners," who came for miles to hear this man of God, this hermit from the wilderness.
John did not measure his words it seems, and was not afraid to declare publically the sins of those in high places. This got him into trouble.
You see, God had sent him.
The Pharisees did not send him.
Saint John the Baptizer was of the priestly line, a Levite, for it was Zechariah who, following his own dumbness of speech, proclaimed to the world just who John came before in order to prepared Israel for her Messiah, and thereby, prepare the people of God for the coming Christ Jesus, our Immanuel!
God sent John.
"There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him."
What a supreme privilege that one might be sent to proclaim the Light in order that all might come to believe through him. In a sense, if not in fact, we are all children of St. John the Baptizer, because he was faithful to his calling, his vocation from God, proclaiming in the face of great opposition the truth of the Light of the world!
I like to look at John the Baptizer as the last "voice" of the Law that cries out against the sins of the people, calling them and all of us to repentance.
The very next Voice would be that of Jesus -- a very different Voice than John's, but with a striking similarity in the message -- with Mercy Incarnated in Jesus.
John was like someone crying out as if in the "chaos" and the "waters" and "deep" where the Spirit of God is moving on the deep of Genesis 1:2, -- when suddenly the light is called out by this obedient son of the Holy Spirit, John, and we see coming forth -- JESUS, the Light that shines in the darkness and the darkness was not able to overcome the Light.
Amen for that, beloved!
John the Baptizer was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. . . St. John bears witness (gives testimony) to the Truth that we might believe, have faith.
(I have never been so happy as when I could have the [privilege] of proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, our only Hope of Salvation.)
Listen to who his audience is. . .
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" And he answered, "No."
When a man or woman is obedient to the call of God, no matter what that call might be, God will provide the strength to complete that call, the grace to do it.
These opponents did not, I remind you, think that John the Baptizer was anything other than someone "great," from their perspective. He had a "charism" they "knew" was different from theirs. He was described as like -- "Christ," "Elijah," or "a prophet." These are complements.
He said "no" to each of these complements.
Well, then, who was he?
They said to him then, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"
He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."
The callings of God seem to always come in the deserts and wildernesses of life.
Our preparations always seem to come within the deserts, the wildernesses, where the owls and the birds of prey dwell with snakes and scorpions.
It is in the desert places of life where we reconcile ourselves to the utter abandonment we must find from our own worthiness. It is in the wilderness that God hammers out a new creation in the Christ, where we might find in our solitude the Word of God who comes alive in us as the Light that shines forth from the darkness!
We cannot find and seek him in our own strength with success through human strength.
God must come to us and reveal himself in the chaos, the darkness, and those dark nights of the soul...
It is then that we are found by God in that place prepared by God for our Lady, and, we come to partake in her food, the Eucharist, with new senses that perceive JESUS.
St. John the Baptizer calls us to find him who finds us in the darkness to shine as SUN of righteousness within us with healing in his wings for our souls.
The Pharisees did not know this truth and praxis (experience). They were trying to find fault somehow?
He was doing something they did not approve of; yet, he was called of God, as a Levite of the priestly clan to do it.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?"
John had the right answer.
John answered them, "I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."
May we who serve God have this Marian kind of humility.
Remember the Visitation, what happened? The babe (John who would become the Baptizer) leapt in the womb of Elizabeth, when Mary and JESUS entered their "space" and the greeting came. This St. John the Baptizer was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb of his mom, Elizabeth.
I am moved to pray -- Oh, my Lord and my God, the Holy Trinity, what might we learn from this if we ponder it long enough and weep tears over it, but for our weak minds that cannot comprehend well enough?
God's grace is sufficient though.
The God whose Blood was shed on the Cross, whose Body broken, now sends forth his Spirit and little St. John the Baptizer responded and was moved like the waters of Genesis 1:1-3 and the Light came forth as it was proclaimed by this Baptizer. How fittingly the waters are spoken of by St. John the Gospel writer.
Now, we hear the final words of this passage we reflect upon today --
This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
How remarkable that it should be at Bethany, the "house of dates." This was the oasis where the date trees grew from the parched earth.
It was at Bethany that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead. It was from Bethany that Jesus would ascend unto his Father in heaven.
May we find such peace with these truths as we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Immanuel.