This week and next, our Gospel will focus on the person of John the Baptist, and more importantly how he announces and reveals the fulfillment of the coming of Jesus Christ.
Now, raise your hand if you have a loved one, or at least know of someone who has fallen away from God and the practice of their faith? Chances are, they were raised to believe in God and his Son, Jesus Christ, and they might have grew up going to Church. Think about the many people who might only come to Mass this Christmas, what do you think they would say they believe in? They might know we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but to them the birth of this baby is really no different than any other little child. If Jesus is God, they might wonder: what makes Jesus God? Is it just the mighty works and miracles that Jesus later performed- the same miracles they may or may not believe what they read in the Bible to be true. Even so, they probably don’t know why Jesus is relevant in their lives today. What makes Jesus God? And why is Jesus and Christianity relevant and important to them today? Let us see how our readings today answer these questions.
Our Gospel says that John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts- preaching “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. Think about that, how many of you would stop what you’re doing, leave your home, and go out to the desert, to the middle of nowhere, and if you’ve been there, you know, to listen to some weird guy wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts? Chances are no matter what he was saying, we wouldn’t go listen. It would be like if a homeless person were on the street corner, we probably would not stop to listen to what he’s saying. Even if he were out there saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, we probably wouldn’t believe him. Perhaps that is what our loved ones are thinking if we preach about John the Baptist or Jesus, it is just falling on deaf ears.
But our Gospel goes on to say that Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him. Why would the whole region of Jerusalem and Judea go out to the wilderness, repent and be baptized by a weird man wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts? They did because of the prophecies of the Old Testament which they had been anticipating were being fulfilled. To the Jews in the 1st century, the image of preparing the way in the wilderness or a path in the desert, is the image of the Exodus. If you recall the twelve tribes of Israel were set free from slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt and they made a way in the wilderness, journeying home to the promised land through the desert. And just as God sent Moses to save them through the first exodus, the Jews were anticipating a new Exodus where God would save his people again. At the Jordan River, the river the 1st Israelites crossed to reach the promised land. Thus, the same place the first exodus ended, is the place where the new exodus is going to begin.
Likewise, the fact that John wore camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist pointed to the great prophet Elijah, which 2 Kings testifies he wore. So, John is the new great prophet, like Elijah.
The Jews knew this, they had listened to all the prophecies of the Old Testament and so when John the Baptist appears at the Jordan river, dressed the way he was, preaching in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord, the people knew the prophecies they were anticipating were going to be fulfilled. But John himself is not the fulfillment of the prophecies, he is not the prophesied Messiah that was to come. Rather, John admits in our Gospel that he is not even worthy to tie the sandals of the Savior who is coming.
It is also important to understand what the Jews were anticipating- more than a new Moses who would save again through the new exodus, but the Israelites were waiting for a new kingdom, a new king, a new Jerusalem and a new Temple. If you know your Old Testament, you know how important King David was in unifying the divided kingdoms, you know how important Jerusalem and the temple was. But more than that, the Jews knew how destructive Adam and Eve’s sin was- not only on the people but all of creation, and so they were looking forward to even a new creation. In other words, they were waiting for all things those people and things that saved them in the past to be made new. They were waiting for a Messiah who would make all things new, the same Messiah that John the Baptist proclaimed has come!
With that in mind, let us look at the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, and see how this prophecy points to the Messiah they were looking for. “On that day, on a future day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom”. If you don’t know Jesse was King David’s father, so this prophecy is saying the future Messiah will be from the descendants of Jesse and David. That is why in the New Testament, whenever a writer makes a point to say that Jesus is from David’s line, or called Jesus the “Son of David” it was a testament of faith that Jesus is the Messiah they were waiting for.
Then, the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon the future Messiah- so these 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned- Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Strength, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. These gifts which Jesus has in their fullness from the beginning, these gifts of the Holy Spirit can be ours too- if we let Jesus be Lord of our lives.
But then Isaiah goes on give even more imagery of the future Messiah which you might not have caught. All this imagery of the wolf with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, and the calf and the lion together, that’s all imagery of Eden. If you go back to the book of Genesis 2–3, there’s peace and harmony not just between Adam and Eve, but Adam and Eve and all creation. So the image here is of an Eden, a paradise restored, where there is no bloodshed, there’s no violence, there’s no strife, and even the child can play with the adder, or the donkey with a serpent, without any risk of being harmed. So those are figures for a new creation, for a new Eden. And then again when he says they shall not hurt or destroy my holy mountain, that is the imagery for a new Jerusalem, a new city of God, where there is not going to be any more pain or suffering or crying anymore, but there will be peace and harmony in the world.
And so, what is so important about this for us today, the fact that there are dozens of prophecies all that point to, and is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ is so important and critical to one having faith. It means that Jesus of Nazareth isn’t just one more leader of one more religion, he is the only founder of any major world religion that was ever pre-announced. And it being pre-announced and fulfilled means that God wants to be known, but it also makes it credible, makes it true. God wants to be known. Christianity is not a man-made religion, it is a religion that is divinely revealed by God and that was prepared for by God over the course of centuries. So that by the time that John the Baptist comes onto the scene, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of prophecies that Jesus is going to fulfill.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, that peace and harmony which Isaiah prophecies the Messiah will bring about possible in Jesus Christ. So, ask yourself- how many of our loved ones and those fallen away could use and want more peace and harmony in their life? They all do, and so that is the Good News that we are to share, that is how relevant and important Jesus Christ is in all of our lives.BACK TO LIST