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Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2004
Isa. 35:1-6, 10 James 5:7-10 Matt. 11:2-11
John the Baptist as Our Advent Guide
By Rev. Jeffrey Lawrence
Today, we meet St. John the Baptist in his prison cell. The ancient Jewish
historian, Josephus, writes that the Baptist was locked up in a place called
Machaerus, King Herods fortress on the dreary and isolated hills east of
the Dead Sea.
Once again, Johns mouth had gotten him into trouble.
Not long ago, we met St. John while he was baptizing at the River Jordan. When
the Pharisees and Sadducees came to present themselves for baptism, he railed at
them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to
come?" (Matt. 3:7).
Ouch. Those words must have stung and he certainly didnt win any
brownie points with the Jewish leaders.
Then, more recently, John spoke out of turn once again. Herod Antipas was the
local ruler and was married to an Arab princess. But he became infatuated with
Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Philip. Herod and Herodias eloped, even
though they were both married. St. John the Baptist condemned this severely. He
told Herod to his face, "It is not lawful for you to have her" (Matt.
Herod wasnt pleased. He had John thrown into jail and eventually,
Why couldnt John just be nice? Would it kill him to be more polite?
Look at us. Christmas is just ten days away, and look how much we smile at
people and try to make them happy. Maybe the kids will be visiting from across
the country, and even though daughter is coming home with her boyfriend and
theyve been living together for a long time, we wont say anything
because we dont want to have a scene at the holidays. Its better to
And Uncle Bill will probably come by for a drink, if hes sober enough to
drive and Aunt Alice doesnt have any obvious bruises on her face, and
hell start in on the blacks, the Jews, the Arabs, and many oth olks who
are not as good as he is
but well bite our lips, because we want to
And dont forget going to Mass at Father Joes parish where he comes
down the aisle in a Santa suit and greets the people with a very trinitarian
and it all goes downhill from there. Oh my, oh dear,
we must keep quiet. Hes a priest!
Why is it that St. John the Baptist would speak up while we prefer to hold our
For one thing, St. John undeniably was holy. Thats why Jesus praises him
today: "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen
anyone greater than John the Baptist" (Matt. 11:11).
What qualities did Our Lord admire in him? Certainly his humility. Do you
remember when people kept asking him if he was the Messiah? He wasnt
flattered by these remarks. Thoughts of power and prestige didnt fill his
head. Instead, this very humble man said, "After me, One is coming who is
mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of his
sandals" (Mark 1:7). Have you ever made a comment like that about
The Baptist also lived a very disciplined life. He didnt let himself be
swayed by earthly values or material things. A king, a Pharisee, a soldier
why, theyre just flesh-and-blood men as he is, subject to the same God and
held to the same standards and commandments. As Jesus tells us, St. John
wasnt luxuriously dressed and he didnt give a hoot about fancy food.
He chose to have a single focus: Almighty God.
And because of this holiness, this humility and this radical self-discipline,
John was absolutely fearless. Thats why he had the courage to speak up. You
see, he wasnt concerned with himself. He didnt condemn anyone who
insulted him or stepped on his toes or hurt him or locked him up. He bore those
things silently. But when it came to the things of God faith, true
contrition, purity, holiness, justice, and so on why, then there was no
stopping him. He was a soldier of God and he would fight to the death for his
When we let a sin go by without a peep, we do just the opposite. Thats
not a victory for peace; its a victory for the devil. True peace the
kind of peace that Christ wants us to have is always based on truth and
The greatest Christmas gift we could give ourselves this year and
instill in our families is faith and courage like St. John the
Baptists. Pray hard for these.
Way back in the fourth century, the great saint John Chrysostom his name
means "golden mouthed," and he got that nickname because he was such am
amazing preacher and fearless Christian was being bullied by the Roman
emperor and was threatened with banishment. St. John answered him, "You
cant banish me, because the whole world is my Fathers
Then the emperor threatened him with death. The saint replied, "You
cant kill me, because my life is hidden with Christ in God."
Then the emperor threatened to take away all his money. St. John said,
"My treasure is in heaven and my heart is there, too."
The last threat the emperor made was to deprive Chrysostom of all his friends.
The saint said, "You cant do that either, because I have a Friend in
heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you. There is nothing you can do
to hurt me."
All the power of Rome was powerless before such Christian courage.
Indeed, all the power of this world is powerless before the Christian courage
that Jesus holds up to us today.
During the next week and a half, as we near Our Saviours coming at
Christmas, reflect on St. John the Baptists greatness before God and beg
the Lord to share in his humility and fearless holiness. Then the true peace of
Christmas will be with you always.
God bless you!
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 736, 1832, 717,
Reverend Jeffrey Lawrence is a priest of the
Diocese of Peoria, Ill. serving at St. Stephens Parish in Streator,
Ill. A convert from Judaism, Fr. Lawrence practiced law, was creative
director and a principal in an advertising agency, and was a consumer
magazine publisher before his ordination to the priesthood as a "late
This homily originally appeared in Homiletic
& Pastoral Review, America's leading pastoral magazine
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