On this penultimate Advent Sunday, John the Baptist enters to give us our marching orders: Straighten the road for the Lord is coming!
And who is John? asks one of the Homily Service writers from 2002. John is one who is not worthy. He is, therefore, a model for our lives. He is focused on the One who is beyond him and who he yet knows so intimately that he cannot presume even to serve this coming one.
John is a voice crying into emptiness. Into the wilderness. Where we live. We need to hear him.
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Like the prophets before him, and like Jesus, John has been sent (apestalmenos) from God. The people in Jerusalem, in contrast, were the ones [who] sent (apesteilan) the "priests and Levites" to question John (v 19), as on another occasion, most probably, the Pharisees were sent to question him (v 24). Here we see an example of one of John's favored contrasts: John the Baptist, sent from God, is questioned by religious leaders, sent from human beings, the power figures of this world . . .
Who, then, is John? "A voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord" (see Isaiah 40:3), And how does one make straight the way of the Lord? By repentance.
This repentance is specified clearly in Luke. After quoting more of Isaiah's words (40:3-5 and 10-14), Luke has John the Baptist give precise answers to questions about preparing for the coming kingdom. His words have to do with sharing one's cloak and food; collecting only prescribed taxes, without the kick-back; and not extorting or falsely accusing others. Significantly as well, only in Luke's gospel are Isaiah's words from today's first reading cited at the start of Jesus ' ministry (Luke 4:18-19). –– S. Marian Bohen, OSU
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
These well-known words of glad tidings to the lowly come from the tradition of the Third Isaiah, who sings of glory and hope after suffering. The Spirit of God was promised to the messianic king (Isaiah 11:1-2) and to all the people (Joel 3; Zechariah 12:10), the Spirit always associated with the great works of God. The servant who sings the song describes the good news. . . Those who are singled out as recipients of the glad tidings are not the rich and powerful, not the religious leaders and pious devotees. The glad tidings are for the lowly, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners, those who mourn. The salvation announced by the servant is one of justice and liberation: a setting right of all aspects of human society. . .
The following section (vv 8-11) begins emphatically, "I, the LORD. . .." The stress is again on "rightness" and "justice." If the people are open to the salvation offered them––if they live in justice, creating a just community––then the "lasting covenant" will be theirs, and they will be "renowned" as a blessed people. –– S. Marian Bohen, OSU
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
The Christian community is to live the way of the Spirit: a way of loving esteem for those working to lead the community; a way of peace among the members and of mutual correction, encouragement and patience (vv 12-14). This exhortation encourages community members to "follow good" always rather than to repay evil with evil. The ideal presented here, though on a smaller scale, is basically the vision of Isaiah: Salvation is offered to humans in . . . their personal and societal relationships.
Whereas Isaiah's vision was presented as proclamation and promise, Paul's vision is presented as a way of life made possible by the free gift of God and made attainable when people attempt to reflect that vision and gift in themselves. –– S. Marian Bohen, OSU
S. Marian Bohen, OSU, a writer and editor, was engaged in formal education for twenty-four years in Indonesia, has taught at Marist College, the Maryknoll School of Theology, in Sing Sing Prison in New York, and in Stateville Prison, Chicago.
Homily Service 36, no. 1 (2002): 29-34.