By Fr Chris Vipers, Director of the Agency for Evangelisation
He used to, as they say, strike the fear of God into me! Every morning he would stand for hours outside the tube station and shout at the top of his voice, ‘repent ye wicked sinners!’. Needless to say, the poor, sinful and unrepentant commuters, very often me included, would hurry on. Standing at almost seven feet tall, with a long prophetic beard and hair standing on end, he cut a terrifying figure. For years I used to think he was the spitting image of St John the Baptist, crying out a message of repentance, not in the wilderness of Judea but on Wood Green High Road. How wrong I was.
We first meet John in St Luke’s Gospel: ‘As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy!”’ (Luke 1: 41-44). A child leaping for joy. What a beautiful description, and one that would be familiar to anyone who has felt an unborn baby kicking.
For this baby, the baby who would go on to be the great herald and forerunner of Christ, this joy never left him. It was a joy that drew ‘all Judaea and all the peoples of Jerusalem… and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins’ (Mark 1:5). This was a joy that sparked heartfelt repentance and a deep desire for conversion in the lives of those who came to the desert to hear him preach, a joy that opened the world up to Jesus, ‘joy of man’s desiring’. Perhaps John, described by Jesus as, ‘a lamp alight and shining’ (John 5:35), can accompany us through our Advent journey to Christmas this year, preparing new ways for the Lord into our lives, our churches, our communities, our world.
This Advent, this Christmas, could just be the ‘beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1:1) that someone is waiting to hear, and perhaps they are waiting to hear it from you and me. John shows us how to proclaim it, and it starts and ends in joy.