A Prophet Who Prepares and Speaks for the Lord
User’s Guide to the Second Sunday of Advent
The Second Sunday of Advent usually features the ministry of St. John the Baptist. He was the prophet who fulfilled the Office of Elijah, of whom it was said, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:4).
St. John was a prophet who prepared the people of his time.
What are essential ingredients of a prophet who prepares others? The ministry of St. John the Baptist provides four:
The text says, “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’”
Note that John says two things: He first says, “Repent!” and then adds, “for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is a balance that must be gotten right. The preacher and prophet must speak frankly of sin and call people to repentance, but also speak of the grace available to conquer that sin and that the Kingdom of heaven is open and available even to the worst sinner who repents.
Too many preachers, catechists and even parents lack this proper balance. If you don’t know the bad news, then the Good News is no news. In the Church we have been soft-pedaling the bad news, and so the Good News seems irrelevant to many people. Why pray, receive sacraments, come to Mass or read Scripture if everything is just fine? Our churches have emptied in part due to a lack of proper balance between repenting and mercy. Prophecy must have the right balance.
The text says, “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”
Here is the desired product of powerful prophecy: repentance unto salvation for all who believe. Prophets do not seek merely to scare people; they seek to prepare them. To repent, to come to a new mind and heart by God’s grace, is to be prepared. This is the central work of the prophet who prepares: repentance unto salvation. Good preaching, among other things, produces repentance unto salvation. It will produce a Godly sorrow, such that anger and sadness give way to gladness. The expected product of proper preaching is repentance unto salvation.
The text says, “When [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.’”
John the Baptist had no fear of people’s opinions. He would not compromise his message based on his audience. The credentials and power of the temple leaders did not impress or intimidate him. The ancient martyrs went to their deaths proclaiming Christ, yet many of us moderns are afraid of someone raising an eyebrow at us. Fear is a great enemy of powerful prophecy, for it causes many to remain silent when they should speak.
The text says, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”
John’s disciples and his audiences were fascinated by him, drawn in by his charisma. They wanted to know more about him, but instead John talked about Jesus. That was his message: “Jesus, not me.” “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). A prophet speaks for the Lord, not for himself. A prophet announces God’s agenda, not his own.
- msgr. charles pope
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- st. john the baptist