On the 2nd Sunday of Advent, our parish patron, John the Baptist, turns up for the first time. He had appeared in the desert north of Jerusalem, preaching repentance. John was a relative of Jesus and had been marked out by God since his birth as the one who would go before him to prepare his way (Luke 1.76). For that reason he is known in the Church's tradition as 'The Forerunner of the Lord.' John may have belonged to one of the Jewish communities that lived out in the desert at that time. They rejected the Temple at Jerusalem because they held it to be corrupt. They aimed to prepare Israel for judgement from God. John too was an austere figure and his message was equally demanding. Yet St Luke in his Gospel sees him as promising a coming joy: the arrival of God's salvation (Luke 3.6).
In Christian art, John is often shown pointing to Jesus. As reported in St. John's Gospel he himself said that he must decrease while Jesus must increase (John 3.30). John was a humble man, a prophet who knew that his mission was not to point to himself but to the one who was to come. One of the most famous artistic depictions of him, by the artist Gruenewald, shows him at the cross pointing at Jesus. Though John was already dead by the time of the crucifixion (beheaded by the corrupt King Herod for his prophetic preaching), artistic liberty trumps fact by showing a deeper reality: pointing to Christ was what John had always done!
He came before Jesus, but we who come after him, disciples of Jesus, do not have a different calling. Our mission too is to point to Jesus, crucified and risen, as Lord and Saviour of the world.
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice, and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord