“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”as Isaiah the prophet said” (Jn 1:23).
These are the words that John the Baptist pronounced in response to the priests, Levites, and Pharisee’s question, “Who are you?”. John was preparing the way for the Lord, which he had been doing since his time in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. John leaped for joy at Mary’s greeting, the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth and she proclaimed: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (cf: Lk 1:42-45). John began his ministry in the womb.
John continued to do so in this present scene by calling people to repentance through baptism with water so that Jesus “might be known to Israel” (Jn 1:31). John following the tradition of the prophets was calling his people back to God. Time and again, many of the people had gone astray, like lost sheep without a shepherd, and God called the prophets to rise up and speak on his behalf. John was shepherding as he preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). He was calling the people of God back into the fold. The sign the people heeded that call and were willing to repent was in their willingness to submit to baptism.
Through this baptism of water, the people would readily have recognized the correlation with the freedom of their people from their time as slaves in Egypt when Moses led them to freedom through the parting of the waters of the Red Sea. Their ancestors left their old way of life of slavery under the Pharaoh behind and were invited to begin a new life. The people who responded to the call of John were called to repent, to turn their mind from their old ways of separation from God, and prepare for a new life of communion with God that would be brought on by the coming of him who “will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (cf. Mt 3:11).
Jesus would be he, and today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means rejoice. We are rejoicing in the retelling of the story of our salvation. John prepared the way for Jesus to be revealed as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Jesus participated in the same baptism of John just as others had. Jesus showed in that act of humility how he, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). He the Son of God became fully human to be one with us in our fallen nature of sin, he entered our humanity to walk and accompany us, to lead us, like Moses led the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt to a new life in the Promised Land. Jesus leads us to the Promised Land of the kingdom of Heaven.
Each time we enter the sanctuary as Catholics we dip our fingers in holy water and make the Sign of the Cross. We do so because in that simple act we remember our baptism in whose name we have been baptized: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In the Sacrament of Baptism, our sins were burned away through the transforming fire and love of the Holy Spirit. We were indelibly marked, branded by that fire, meaning our baptism cannot be undone. We were marked by Christ, conformed to, grafted to, the Body of Christ. We were changed for eternity. This means we are also able to participate in the life and love of the Trinitarian communion now. The same Love that the Father and Son share between one another who is the Holy Spirit we share in and are called to share with others.
Let us rejoice this Gaudete Sunday for the gift of our baptism, the gift of repentance, the gift of being able to recommit our lives to Jesus, to each day being able to begin our life anew in Christ. May we bring this joy that we have experienced to all we meet this week, to prepare a way as John did for others who are wounded and hurting that they too may receive the light and life of Christ in their life.
Photo: One of the greatest joys of being a deacon is the grace to be able to administer the Sacrament of Baptism! I believe I am baptizing Connor and his baptismal garment is over 100 years old!
Link for today’s Mass readings for Sunday, December 17, 2017: