John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
We have four Gospels each with its own way to tell us about how the good news begins. Both Matthew and Luke begin with the conception, birth, and early childhood of Jesus. In the opening of the Gospel according to John, we are told of the eternal life of Christ as God, the Word of the Father. Mark starts with John the Baptist. For Mark, the good news all begins with Jesus’ preparation for his public ministry. This is also the Gospel reading of today.
The way that Mark begins the good news shows that Mark has never doubted that the man, Jesus, later called Christ, is the Son of God. In verse 1 of the Gospel according to Mark, it says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
His faith was supported by two persons. The first was the prophet Isaiah, whom he quoted, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight” (verses 2 and 3).
The second person was the one whom had been referred by Isaiah in his prophecy quoted in verses 2 and 3, John the Baptist. However, Mark does give us much information who John the Baptist is but go straight to his ministry in the wilderness. The missing information about the conception and birth of John the Baptist was filled by Luke.
The primary meaning of the prophet’s words can be seen in today’s first reading of Isaiah 40:1-5;9-11. These words of the prophet are words of consolation and comfort spoken to the Jews in exile in Babylon by a follower and devotee of Isaiah that they would go back to Judea and Jerusalem by the power of God because God is loving and faithful.
Mark sees the real fulfillment of the prophecy in John the Baptist. John sets out in the desert of Judea near Jordan. He prepares his fellow Jews for the immanent coming of the long-expected Messiah among them. This is also confirmed by another Evangelist, John, who said, “He [John the Baptist] said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23).
What John the Baptist preaches is the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (verse 4b). it means that by a true change of heart and the total return to God, the Jews could prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah.
From the above, we can see that though John the Baptist is the one whom the words of prophet Isaiah are fulfilled, he is not the focus of us. He is the finger pointing to the moon, but not the moon. The importance of John the Baptist is confirmed by Jesus, who said, “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’” (Matthew 11:10). These words are from the prophet Malachi. By using Malachi’s words to John the Baptist, Jesus tells us who he is.
The simple and direct opening of the Gospel according to Mark is the summary of God’s love to all of us. His love is not only words but also action. The action is the Incarnation, a true union of God and humans. Thus, Mark’s good news is the greatest good news that mankind can ever experience.
The first act of Jesus’ public ministry is his Baptism. This speaks his humility. In contrary to the humility of Jesus, we are proud and self-centered. Our pride and our stubbornness of self-center make us blind about the fact that God had brought himself down to the level of man, by assuming man’s human nature to live among us.
Shall we ask us today: “Am I for or against Christ?” Let us examen our conscience honestly and soon we would find out whether I love God or not. Christmas reminds us God’s first appearance on earth. May we use the season Advent to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Christ, to straight our path to meet Him. Amen.