Messenger: Advent Word 9

“Saint John the Baptist,” Leonardo da Vinci (1513-1516?)

For the processional hymn yesterday at St. Michael’s, we sang about the last prophet in the Christian tradition, the messenger whose words of repentance we heed each Advent:

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and harken for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed he every breast from sin;
Make straight the way for God within,
and let each heart prepare a home
where such a mighty guest may come.

The Gospel lesson, Mark 1:1-8, made more apparent the focus of the day’s service:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then the Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones, a powerful messenger in his own right, preached on the text from Mark. His message about John the Baptist was simple and threefold:

  1. John the Baptist was real, as testified not only in the Gospels, but also in the Antiquities of Josephus. His ministry was important; he had a powerful influence on those who followed him.
  2. He always acknowledged, “It’s not about me.” He knew that he was an unworthy messenger, and he always pointed to the one who would come after.
  3. His message was about making ready for the coming of the King of kings.

Father Greg suggested that we listen carefully to these points about John and apply them to our own lives. We are real, and we matter–but not that much. It’s not about us. It’s about the once and future King, whose first and second comings we remember and look forward to during Advent. But the Kingdom of God is also here and now, and the purpose of Advent is to ponder and to share that good news.

“Saint John the Baptist Preaching,” Luca Giordano (1695)


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