Every year in the Lectionary used in Catholic churches all over the world, the gospel readings on the second and third Sundays of Advent have as their main focus John the Baptist. Who was this man and how does he come across in the various passages from the gospels read on these days? Have we anything to learn from him today?
We learn who he was from the Jewish historian, Josephus. Writing about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, he remarks about John, ‘He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing join in baptism. . .’ (Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.2). Josephus was only interested in John because he was part of the story of Herod Antipas, the ruler in Galilee, who saw him as a threat. Likewise, the evangelists include John in their gospels because of the role he played in the life of Jesus. We read about him in the Sunday Lectionary because the story of his ministry can enrich our preparation for Christmas during the season of Advent.