24 June 2013

Why does the Christ need a herald?

NB. Yesterday's homily took me about five hrs. to wring from my brain.  I think I sprained something. Just wasn't up to the task today. . .so, here's one from 2007. Mea culpa.

Nativity of John the Baptist 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic, NOLA 

Zechariah’s tongue is freed to speak. Once he has agreed to name his son “John,” which means “God shows Himself to be gracious,” his tongue is unstuck. Having been punished with silence for failing to believe that God could give him and his wife, Elizabeth, a son so late in his life, Zechariah sees his son for the miracle that he is and blesses God with his first words! But how quickly his words of blessing become words of worry among the people of Judea when it becomes clear that this son is no ordinary child. Luke reports, “All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” What will the child be? Who did he become? John the Baptist is the Harbinger crying for our repentance before the coming of the Lord! 

Why does the Christ need a herald? Here's part of the reason: It's just common sense to say that we receive information about the world based on our natural abilities to receive physical sensations; that is, we see, hear, feel, taste, smell because we have eyes, ears, skin, tongues, and noses. Our first contact with creation is sensual; we are made in a way that makes it possible for us to live and thrive, in a manner that prepares us for living day to day in a world of things and processes. But are we naturally prepared to received the Word Made Flesh? Are we made to see and hear and taste the arrival of the Messiah? Of course, this isn’t a question about our physical readiness to greet the Lord but one about our capacity to think and feel and live with the reality of his coming in the flesh and his staying among us in the Spirit. 

The coming of the Messiah is hardly a secret. The prophets of the Old Covenant have made his coming abundantly evident. God Himself promised that a virgin would conceive and bear a child named “Emmanuel,” “God-is-with-us.” This is not occult science but prophetic art, a clarion call to point the way to the eventual presence of God Himself among His people. So, why do we have John the Herald coming before the Messiah? At the very least, John’s conception, birth, life, and public ministry are all meant to prepare us to receive Christ as the gift he is meant to be. It is one thing for the Father to hand us His Son to us; it is quite another for us to receive His Son as a gift. Clearly, John’s arrival means that we were not ready to say Yes to God’s gift of salvation through His Son. Luke reports in Acts, “John heralded [Jesus’] coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel…” To be ready, we must turn around and face God head on. 

John came out of the desert to preach his gospel of repentance. Out of a barren waste, the dry and weary land of sand and heat, John brings the cool cleansing waters of baptism, the fresh promise of renewal that—once taken in faith—prepares the eyes and ears to see and hear the good news that arrives with the birth of his cousin, Jesus the Christ. With John, our Father shows Himself to be gracious by preparing us for His coming among us; that is, John, God’s sign of grace, precedes God’s act of final mercy, Jesus; and He is with us. That we are to turn around and face this revelation of His gift is perfectly sensible. How, otherwise, would we come to know and love Him Who dies for us? How would we reach out and receive what God desires to give us as gift if we were not facing Him, hands out, pristine and thankful? 

The people of Judea worried, “What, then, will this child be?” John answers, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not [the Christ]…” No, he isn’t. Instead, he comes out of the desert to prepare us to accept—through our repentance of sin—the gift of God among us, our lasting cure, our final healing, the one who comes after him to die so that we might have eternal life.
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