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When Messiah Comes

Third Sunday in Advent

14 December 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

I wonder what a twenty-first century John the Baptist would look like. He’s not a figure who fits comfortably into society. He’s an outsider - a misfit whom we might just try to avoid. He lived in the desert, dressed in camel’s hair, and lived on locusts and wild honey. Not someone to invite to dinner! But rather a disturbing presence.

And yet there was a place for the prophet in John’s world. Religious teachers of all kinds were listened to - the traditionalists in the Temple and also the Pharisees with their emphasis on the Law of Moses. But the outsider from the desert was also listened to - with his message of judgement and repentance. Would he be listened to in our society? We probably don’t listen to the complete outsider, especially if his message is religious. But we listen to those who warn of climate change and global warming and the dangerous proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our hearts are touched when we hear of widespread poverty and disease. Perhaps especially at Christmas we are moved to generosity by appeals for the homeless.

But what was John’s message? First, that the time of waiting was over; the long-awaited Messiah was about to appear. And secondly that the age of the Messiah would be one of justice and righteousness - something for which men and women must prepare by taking a good look at their own lives. How would they measure up in the bright light of judgement which the Messiah brings.

John invited people from the city to come out into the desert to renew the experience of the nation when it first discovered its unique relationship with God. He took them to the far side of the River Jordan - outside the Promised land - outside a creative relationship with the living God. In order to re-enter the Promised land they had to be immersed - baptized - in the Jordan. And before John would baptize them and welcome them back into the Promised Land, he demanded of them a deep repentance for sin and a sincere dedication to a new life.

And that, of course, is what we also do in Christian baptism. When we stand at the font, godparents are asked to make certain promises on behalf of the infant candidate; I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil. These promises are all about turning away from darkness, sin and evil, and turning towards the light, to the way of Jesus Christ, and to a good life. Of course, there is more to Christian baptism than to John’s. For us it is an identification with Jesus Christ. It’s hard to explain this at the baptism of an innocent child, but to enter the waters of baptism is to be made one with Jesus in his death; to rise from the waters is to share also his resurrection and eternal life.

Baptism makes us Christians, identified with Jesus Christ and committed to the way of life he showed us and taught us. As we await the coming of the Messiah once again, perhaps we should all renew our baptismal promises - I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil.
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