For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, …
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Matthew 24:37-44 – NRSV).
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:1-12 – NRSV).
We cannot think of John the Baptist without thinking of Jesus. And we cannot think of Jesus, God’s being-in-the-flesh, without thinking of John the Baptist.
Together with his preaching, John’s very existence calls us to recognize the dignity of being a person. “No one has arisen greater than John the Baptist yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”. I think it is fair to say that, as the messenger of God’s being-in-the-flesh, John also declares the dignity of all being-in-the-flesh.
In today’s Gospel – Matthew 1:18-24 – we have one of the best known of the biblical stories. It has been acted out in countless nativity plays over the generations. It must also be one of the most frequent scenes depicted in art. Is it fair to say that, typically, in these theatrical and artistic representations, the cute wins out over the harsh and the romantic over the dangerous? Let us see if we can go “inside” this event rather than view it from a safe distance.
Christmas evokes many different reactions and responses. There are those who would happily dispense with it. Others welcome it for commercial reasons. Still others dread it for family reasons. Some love it for the holidays it brings. And so it goes. Listen within: What does your faith tell you? In this Feast we celebrate the most momentous event in the history of the cosmos: “The Word became flesh”! The Divine is united in love with the human, the eternal with the temporal, the infinite with the finite. Utterly incomprehensible, but true. I cannot prove it or even begin to explain it, but I believe it.
“St. Augustine says that the ‘entire purpose of the Christian life is to awaken the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen’” (Martin Laird and Sheelah Trefle Hidden, The Practice of the Presence of God: Theology as a Way of Life, New York, NY: Routledge, 2017, 103).
In 2006, the German film, The Lives of Others, was released. It is a brilliant film, one of the best I have ever seen.
In John’s Gospel, “seeing” is closely linked with “believing”. The Greek verb pisteuō – “believe” – in various forms, appears more than 100 times in John’s Gospel. It is always as a verb. “Seeing”, “believing” and “witnessing” together are constitutive elements of discipleship. All are embodied in John the Baptist.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”