Editorial: John the Baptist, Advent prophet of hope
Five major pro-life ballot measures saw defeat on Election Day. Months have passed since Russia invaded Ukraine, leaving cities destroyed and tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians dead. Americans are threatened with increasing economic instability, including rising home heating costs as we head into winter.
And to all of this, what does the Church have to say? We believe that it is no coincidence that we are now entering the precious season of hope in our liturgical year. Advent is the privileged time for renewal, for rebirth.
Unlike Lent, marked by a more sober experience of fasting and abstinence, Advent is a time of expectation. The virtue of hope fundamentally points us toward that which we do not yet possess. It is a time of waiting, looking forward to the good things that God has in store, things that have not yet arrived.
And the Advent figure, par excellence, is John the Baptist.
The voices of the prophets, the prominent voices of Advent liturgies, encourage Israel to look for the coming savior. In times of exile, discouragement and crisis, Israel’s prophets repeatedly encouraged Israel to look forward with confidence to the work God had promised to undertake.
The voices of the prophets are voices of hope, building up confidence in God’s work. Our politics, our economy, our social policy — none of these are yet as Christian as they might be. But Advent is a time to renew our confidence that we can improve them. To profess that every human life is worth fighting for, that love for the poor should determine our decision-making, and that peace is a real possibility is hope!
John the Baptist echoes the prophets’ call to repentance, and like the prophets, he calls God’s sons and daughters to worship in love. This prophetic voice calls us to account, demanding hearts and minds be made ready, be prepared for the Lord’s coming.
The theme of preparation dominates our daily lives during this season. We purchase gifts, begin decorating our homes and plan for Christmas festivities. And all of this external activity is a sign of the spiritual dimension of the season, because even when attenuated into an essentially secular “holiday season,” decorations and hymns still reflect the underlying spiritual dimension that we can never fully erase. All of these signs prepare our hearts for worthy celebrations of Christ’s coming.
Hope means living preparation, believing that Christ will come and making the way ready for him. John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord each major moment of Christ’s life. The Baptist leapt for joy at his coming, preached conversion in the desert, baptized in the Jordan (including the Lord’s own baptism), and gave his life in a gruesome death, prefiguring the Lord’s own offering. John the Baptist’s life was a life of preparation.
Finally, Advent has a decidedly eschatological tone. Traditionally, Advent preachers were instructed to meditate on the mysteries of the Last Things, to point their hearers to contemplate death, judgment, heaven and hell. The point of such meditations is to draw hearts from the mire of the here and now and insist that they prepare for what is to come.
To hope for the Last Day means to come to terms with the working out of history as it is, knowing that God’s providence guides all things to the Final Day. Christ will come again on that day to judge and to reign, and all will be made manifest.
John the Baptist knew that Christ’s baptism, which was a baptism of the Holy Spirit, would lead to greater marvels still. His preaching was never to draw attention to himself, but always to direct men and women to the Lord. His cry in the wilderness was not to give voice to his own spirituality, but to be a voice for Christ.
Christ came once to Bethlehem, he will come again in glory at the end of time, and every Advent is an opportunity for him to come again in our hearts. John the Baptist — a figure who speaks prophetically, challenges us to prepare, and draws our minds to wonders to come — is a figure who inspires, above all, hope.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Father Patrick Briscoe, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young