Bring the Hope of John Amid Darkness
User's Guide to Sunday, Dec. 6
Editor's Note: The list of Mass readings has been updated since this column went to print.
Sunday, Dec. 6, is the Second Sunday of Advent (Year C). Tuesday, Dec. 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation.
Baruch 5:1-9; Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:4, 6
When times grew dark, and storm clouds gathered, God sent John the Baptist to cry out for hope. This is our Advent vocation, too.
His message — “Prepare the way of the Lord” — could not have found a more ill-suited time. John appears in “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” an emperor who traded his fame on the battlefield for a life of debauchery and seclusion. “Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,” says the Gospel. He is the man known for one thing: ordering the killing Jesus Christ. “Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,” says the Gospel, referencing a failed military ruler whose career ended in exile. We know the stories of his weakness: beheading John the Baptist because of a promise at a party and giving in to Christ’s death because Jesus wouldn’t do tricks for him. And it all happened “during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,” who started by cooperating with Rome to keep the peace but ended by manipulating the Romans to kill Jesus.
It is into a dark time and under the rule of people who would kill both him and the Savior he heralded that John the Baptist first appears as “a voice of one crying in the desert.”
It all sounds eerily like today. We are in the grip of rulers worldwide who embrace the violence of abortion, threaten religious liberty and have done away with marriage as a unique institution for the protection of childbearing couples. What would John the Baptist do if he were alive today? Presumably he would issue the same advice: Give God an inroad. Give him a straight path — “The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
This is not a message of dire desperation, but of urgent hope. We hear the same message in the Old Testament reading: “Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights … God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.”
Leave despair for the people who are attached to the violence and hatred of the world’s errors. For Christians, every time is a time of joy. “I am confident of this,” says St. Paul, “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” The Church is confident today, too. Look at it one way, and nothing is going our way. Look at it another, and we live in a remarkable time, when there are as many John the Baptists as there are Christians, and Jesus Christ is with us every single day in the sacrament.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April,
his wife and in-house
theologian and consultant,
and their children. CNA image