Is 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Pt 3:8-14
When the Church begins her new year on the first Sunday of Advent she begins a new cycle of reading from the lectionary. The cycle of weekday readings switches between years I and II. The Sunday readings cycle every three years with each year focusing on one of the synoptic Gospels. This year is year B during which the Church proclaims Mark. No matter which Sunday cycle is being read the second and third Sundays of Advent focus on John the Baptist and his message. John the Baptist the prophet who was Jesus’ herald but who described himself as unworthy to hold or untie Jesus’ sandals.
John was a kinsman of Jesus though the degree of kinship is unclear. The magnificent first chapter of Luke’s Gospel describes the first encounter between John and Jesus at Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. “. . . and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit cried out in a loud voice and said ‘Most Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy.”
Who was this herald? In art work, movies, and a bizarre genre of novels, the kind in which Jesus and Mary Magdalene lived in sin, had six kids and a golden retriever, and moved to a condo in the Florida Keys, John the Baptist is depicted as something between a drugged out hippie and a wild-eyed lunatic, dressed in animal skins and consuming a diet that, by American standards, may be considered inedible except on a few of the weird shows on the Food Channel, Discovery and their ilk.
Fortunately, we have credible testimony about John from a variety of sources. In addition to being attested in all four Gospels, John appeared in the Antiquities of Josephus. Josephus was an historian who lived from about A.D. 37 to 100. He was neither Jewish nor Christian. He wrote the following about John: “He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God, and in so doing to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism were to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior.”
John’s mode of dressing was no different from that of any other desert dweller. The fur was necessary during cold desert nights. His diet had nothing to do with radical vegetarianism, or the new vogue of veganism, but the need to maintain ritual dietary purity. His dress and diet are, however, irrelevant. His message, however, is as relevant to us as it was to the ancient Judeans who sought him out.
As Josephus noted, he “exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God.” Justice toward their fellows and piety toward God. Obviously neither the message of faith and justice nor the behavior that is contrary to both is new.
We hear in in the Letter of James, a letter which is not proclaimed nearly enough, “Be doers of the word not hearers only; deluding yourselves.” And a bit later, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” Just proclaiming I HAVE FAITH or I BELIEEEEEEEEEEEVE IN JESUS is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Proclaiming that one has faith in Jesus without acting on, without living out, that faith, is not a free pass.
Given the uncompromising nature of his message it is no wonder that John is depicted as deranged or wild-eyed. It is easier to bash the messenger for dressing funny or being politically incorrect than it is to take the demands of the message to heart and live them out.
The choices of Advent are not what to buy mom for Christmas, should I send a card to the Johnsons, or where can I find the least expensive 72 inch flat screen television? The choices are how to live out our faith in an attitude of repentance and conversion of heart so that we can say with the psalmist:
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD—for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.Carmel Terrace 9:30 AM)
I am posting this on Saturday night, 6 December. Tomorrow is an important anniversary. Two years ago from this moment I was lying in a bed at the Washington Hospital Center in D.C. having had a cardiac catheterization that revealed problematic obstructions of a few coronary arteries. Neither stents (already had two) or medication were acceptable options at that point and I opted for surgery. I slept fairly well that night though I did have some Ambien.
The following morning, 7 December, after a long shower during which I scrubbed my chest with iodinated soap (looked as if I had a great though limited tan) I was wheeled to the OR. At no time was I anxious or frightened. I'd been anointed the night before being admitted for the cath. The patient's view of the ceilings of multiple hallways of the hospital center was interesting. The only unpleasant part (we are speaking relatively here) of the experience was being extubated in the recovery room. I had the surgery on 7 December and returned home on 11 December. Many graces were apparent during the experience.
I will admit that when I woke I felt as if I was reenacting Pearl Harbor. Everything hurt but ti didn't last too long. Never took a pain pill beyond the scattered acetaminophen from the time of discharge.
The photos are a flashback for older dudes and dudesses. I took them in Australia. Black and white is the only acceptable way to present them. I learned to type on a version of one of these two-ton monsters. Except the keys where I learned during a summer course had no letters on them. Even if we did look down, an action that was frowned upon, it was of little help. I learned to type at 12. It was the most valuable skill I learned prior to college. At Penn State I would type papers for other guys charging one can of beer per page. It worked well. I'm still a very fast and accurate typist, especially when typing script rather than making it up as I go along.
A two-color ribbon!
After hearing the ding, and to start a new line, reach to the left and push.
The small numerals indicate the number of copies one could make. Of course carbon paper was involved.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD