This week's Gospel reading is taken from the very start of Mark's gospel. It is the story of the appearance of John the Baptist at the river Jordan who, as Mark relates, is Isaiah's 'messenger' who prepares the way of the Lord. Clothed in a camel hair tunic and subsisting on a diet of locusts and honey, he preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The repentance and baptism that he preaches prepares us to encounter Christ, to receive the Holy Spirit, and to become God's children by adoption. As St Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, after Baptism 'you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir' [cf. Gal 4.7]. In Baptism we reject sin and evil, accept Christ as our Saviour, and receive that initial dose of grace that is essential for our salvation. The seventeenth-century French theologian Charles Coffin sums this up in a hymn that is often sung during Advent:
''We hail you as our Saviour, Lord,
Our refuge and our great reward.
Without your Grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.''
from On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry
Baptism is a major landmark in our personal, eschatological journey--in it we die and are born again in Christ. As such, it is the beginning of new journey. Like all journeys, it requires effort: we need to continue to reject sin and evil, continue to accept Christ, and continue to receive Grace through the Sacraments. It is how we fare during this, our post-Baptismal journey that counts.
Our physical death is a certainty, but so too is our judgement. Of course, we need to heed Christ's command from last Sunday to stay awake. But we must also heed the cry of the Baptist to repent and be prepared.
Music: Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Words: John 1.19-23
Artists: Choir of Magdalen College Oxford & Fretwork/Bill Ives
This anthem is an example of a genre known as the 'verse anthem' which had its genesis in late-Elizabethan and early-Jacobean England. 'Verse anthems' are recognizable by the fact that they feature an alternation between 'full' sections which are sung by the full choir and 'verse sections' which are sung by either a soloist or a smaller subsection of singers.
This is the Record of John is one of the most famous examples of the genre and was composed by Orlando Gibbons at the request of William Laud who was, at the time, President of the College of St John Baptist, Oxford. Laud later went on to be the Archbishop of Canterbury during the English Civil War and met his fate in a similar fashion to that of his College's patron saint.
- This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ.
- And they asked him, What art thou then? Art thou Elias? And he said, I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No.
- Then said they unto him, What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.