We begin the Sundays in Ordinary Time with this account from the Gospel of John of the occasion when John the Baptist points out Jesus and identifies him as the Lamb of God. The first thing we should realise is that according to the Law of Moses a lamb was sacrificed each morning and evening in the Temple in expiation for the sins of the people.
John the Baptist was a very fierce man. This might be what you would expect of someone who lived most of his life in the desert. He knew all about hardship and he had the marks of penance on his body. Much of his message was taken up in condemnation, condemnation of those living a life of luxury and giving no thought to the life of the Spirit. But if John was so fierce why did so many people come to him, people from all over Palestine? If I preached fierce condemnatory sermons each week you would soon get fed up, so why did the people flock to hear John.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany when we recall the visit of the wise men to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. These mysterious personages from the East clearly represent the Gentiles, they are both foreigners and followers of a religion other than Judaism.
The first Sunday after Christmas is always dedicated to the Holy Family. It comes very soon after Christmas Day and so perhaps we see even more clearly the link between the two celebrations.
As the old film told us, ‘Christmas comes but once a year.’ But every year, when it comes around, we never tire of celebrating it. As each year goes by, we grow a little older and probably also a little wiser and our understanding and insight into Christmas hopefully grows ever deeper.
We are now in the period of immediate preparation for Christmas and the scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect this with the first reading being an extract from Isaiah which explicitly predicts the Virgin Birth. This text is chosen by the Church for the liturgy this Sunday in order to highlight the fact that it was not just the coming of a Messiah that was foretold in the Old Testament but even some of the circumstances of his birth, most especially the fact that he was to be born of a virgin mother.
Last week we heard about the ministry of John the Baptist and the text we read was taken from the very beginning of St Matthew’s Gospel after the section we call the Infancy Narrative and just before the account of Jesus’ Baptism.
In the middle two Sundays of Advent we hear a lot about John the Baptist. He is a very important figure in the Bible and in the history of our salvation since he uniquely bridges both the Old and New Testaments. It is not difficult to regard John the Baptist as the very last of the Old Testament Prophets and the picture painted of him in the extract from the Gospel we are presented with today certainly makes him look and sound like one of those prophets of old.
Today we begin the liturgical year and as it is unfolded before us Sunday by Sunday this time we will be taking the perspective of St Matthew and will be examining the life of Jesus through his eyes.
St Luke draws an important distinction in the first line of our Gospel text today. He says, “The people stayed there before the Cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him.” He distinguishes carefully between the response of the people and their leaders. It is the leaders who mock Jesus not the people. The people stay at the Cross reverently watching Jesus saying nothing.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket