John the Baptist first appears in the Advent liturgy back on the second Sunday of Advent, and he has been in and out of the readings ever since. In a way, he is Advent incarnate, the essence of this season condensed into one person.
He was the fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the one who would prepare the way of the Lord; one of those passages is in our first reading this morning. John was conceived shortly before Jesus, and announced the Lord’s presence before either one of them was born by leaping in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, the pregnant mother of the Lord, came to visit. John appeared in public before Christ and prepared the people for Jesus’ coming. The Church echoes his words to us throughout Advent, inviting us to “make straight the way of the Lord” into our hearts as we celebrate Christmas, and as we await the second coming of the Lord, when all the prophecies will be finally fulfilled.
It is appropriate, then, that we hear about St. John the Baptist again today, through the first reading’s prophecy and the narrative of his birth in the Gospel. On one hand, it reminds us once again who Jesus is; He is so important, than John is born just to announce His coming. On the other hand, it is as if the Baptist is making a last appearance to remind us once again of the need to prepare. He is here to help us over the threshold from Advent to Christmas.
As we make our last spiritual and material preparations for Christmas, I invite us all to take a moment sometime during the day to rest in silence, shut out all distractions, and contemplate what it is we are going to celebrate. I particularly suggest we read the gospel from tomorrow morning’s Mass, which is John’s father Zechariah’s canticle of praise, known as the “Benedictus”. I’d like to end this last Advent homily quoting the end of that passage:
“In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”