PERSONALITY AND MESSAGE OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST”
Advent Message – 2009
Venerable brothers in the Priesthood, dear Deacons, the Religious Men and Women, my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ! We are yet again in the period of Advent. I wish to reflect with you this season on the personality and message of John the Baptist.
Undoubtedly, the personality of John was unique. He is called the Baptist (Mt. 3:1) and the Baptizer (Mk. 6:14) to distinguish him from other Johns and emphasize the distinctive ministry which he led. John was born to elderly parents named Zachariah and Elizabeth. His father was a priest who served in the temple at Jerusalem. His parents were both righteous before God, walking blameless in all commandments and ordinances of the Lord (Lk. 1:66).
John the Baptist acted much like Elijah, the old prophet of Israel. He called people to repentance and self denial which he demonstrated first in his own life. He was not accustomed to fancy dress; his clothes were made of camel skin with a leather belt. His food was locusts and honey (Mt. 11:7).
John the Baptist led a life of simplicity. He was courageous, and he spoke the truth (Mt. 11:7 ff). As a fore-runner of the messiah, John was humble and accomplished his task of preparing the way of the Lord. He never drew attention to himself but to the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (Mk. 1:7). The characteristics of the personality of John the Baptist challenge our daily Christian way of life: To lead a life of simplicity by not being extravagant and superfluous. We need to be considerate about the wellbeing of our neighbour especially the poor and the vulnerable in our community.
The life of John the Baptist calls us to reflect on the truth and courage. He spoke the truth and was courageous even in the most difficult conditions of his life (Mt. 11:7-10). We are challenged to imitate him even to the point of dying for the truth. This is what it entails to be a true follower of Christ. Humility was certainly one of the virtues that John possessed. He acknowledged that he was not the messiah. He was only the fore-runner and one who alerted the people and prepared for the coming of the Lord (Lk 1:17). His task was to prepare the people spiritually for the messiah’s appearance as prophesied by both Isaiah and Malachi in the Old Testament. Indeed he did this work faithfully and he fulfilled it. In the same way, we need to embrace humility in this period of Advent. Our life should be a preparation in humility for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. Without this virtue, it would indeed be difficult to create a home and accommodate Christ in our hearts at Christmas.
The message of John the Baptist may be summarized in the following words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt.3:2). The word “repent”, in Greek Metanoia, conveys a change of mind. By its usage the idea of sorrow or remorse is also suggested. Repentance produces a change in behaviour. Biblical repentance is a genuine sorrow which is the product of a changed mind, looking at our sin as God sees it, and which results in a change in our actions. It is a message that makes us U-turn from bad to good, from oppression to freedom, from walking in darkness to walking in the light.
The call to repentance had an objective. John was preparing the people to welcome the messiah. He spoke of a mightier One to come after him in about seven other places: Mt. 3:11, Mk. 1:7, Jn. 1:27, Acts 13:25, Lk. 3:16, Jn. 1:8, Jn. 1:20. John never drew attention to himself but to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John the Baptist baptized those that repented. It is important to note that baptism was not the means but the manifestation of attaining forgiveness of sins and readiness for the coming kingdom. If the sign of repentance was baptism, the fruit of true repentance was to be a complete change of life. It is a radical one, thus: Selfishness should be replaced with sharing. The one who has two tunics should share with him who has none. The one who has food should share with the one without (Lk. 3:11).
Extortion must be replaced with contentment. We should be honest in all our dealings and be grateful to God the Creator for what we are and what we have (Lk. 3:14). In this manner, John the Baptist presents the true biblical repentance as the way of escaping the coming judgment. He is calling us to embrace a radical change of attitude resulting in a real alteration of life which would lead to reconciliation, justice and peace and subsequently lead to sharing of gifts. (Lk. 3:11–14).
Brothers and Sisters, whatever God has promised to humanity, He is able to fulfil. This is the message of the advent season. The figure of John the Baptist calls us, therefore, to allow the promises of God in Christ Jesus to be fulfilled within us by means of repentance. John’s message is reminding us to clear away any obstacles that prevent the love of God from ruling our thinking, speaking and acting. Repentance involves a change of mind. It leads to making a decisive turning away from sin because we are living in the loving presence of God. It is important to be aware that sin cannot perform what it promises when we are enticed to embrace its ways. What seemed to be delightful was found out to be destructive (see Gen. 3: 1-19). The true source of contentment for our lives is to be conformed to the commandments of God. This is how we express our love and trust in God. (Jn. 4:34)
Advent reminds us that the time to be faithfully prepared is all the time. God continues to be Emmanuel. God is always with us. God is with us in the Sacrament of Baptism, making us His children and assuring us that we are loved by him. God is with us in the Sacrament of Confirmation, giving us the anointing of the Holy Spirit to participate in the mission of the Church. God is with us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, offering His Body and Blood as an assurance that His love is total and without reservations.
Let us remember that the sacramental life of the Church, instituted by Christ, is part of the proclamation of His Gospel. Let the message of the Advent season speak to you in ways that go beyond the celebration of Christmas. Remember observance of the law, but to make a leap forward, entering into the new covenant, to seize this Kingdom that has appeared, to enter it through faith. “Repent and believe” does not mean two different and successive things, but the same action: that is believe; repent by believing! “Conversion consists in believing first” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
I wish you a prayerful Season of preparation for the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Our Redeemer. I impart my Apostolic Blessing on all of you and all those you share with this Advent Message.
+Dr. Alick Banda
Bishop of Solwezi