Optional reading: Luke 1:5-17, Matthew 3:1-6
Symbol: Scallop Shell
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Matthew 3: 1-6
We have moved into the New Testament readings, and in a few days’ time will be reading the story of the birth of Jesus. But this reading takes us a little way into the future: it is not his cousin’s birth that John the Baptist is heralding, but the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry to preach the Gospel, to suffer, die, and rise again for the forgiveness of our sins.
When Our Lord approaches John and requests baptism Himself, John objects: Jesus does not need the baptism of repentance. But Jesus asks John to do this anyway, and the Father’s voice is heard, telling the crowd of witnesses that this is His beloved Son.
And so St. John becomes the herald of the Gospel. Are we also heralds of the Gospel? Do we tell others the Good News that Christ has come into the world for our salvation? Do we live and act as though we believe the hope and promise of the Gospel message is true?
Optional Reading: Luke 1:26-38 (Annunciation)
“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”
Man sinned by his own free choice. Adam and Eve, knowing God as they did, chose to turn against him, to disobey, and to sin. So it is fitting that in the fullness of time our salvation should also await the free choice of the new Eve; that all of Creation should hold its breath awaiting Mary’s answer to the angel.
Just like Eve, Mary had a choice. God was not going to impose His plan of salvation upon her without her consent. And Mary did ask for one point of clarification: since she had vowed perpetual virginity, how would this marvelous plan come about?
The angel assured her that God was already pleased with her vow of virginity; Isaiah had foretold that a virgin would conceive and bear a son whose name would be Emmanuel, or “God With Us.” She would not bear this child in the ordinary human way, but through the power of the Holy Spirit who would overshadow her as He had once overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant.
Receiving this assurance from the angel, Mary spoke with humility, love, and total acceptance of God’s will: let this be done to me, she said. And all of Creation could sigh in wonder, for the long-promised salvation was now truly at hand.
Mary’s “yes” to God is the most important word any human being has ever spoken. But we, though sinful and weak, are called to imitate Mary by always saying “Yes!” to God’s will. So can we, too, cooperate in His great plan for our salvation.