John the Baptist Preaching In our progression through the Advent Daily Office in the prologue to John’s Gospel, we come to verses 6-8, which are offset by verse 15. In these verses, we have the appearance of John the Baptist, and they echo the Lectionary reading of his message from Matthew 3 this past Sunday. Those who subscribe to the theory that John’s prologue (1:1-18) was an early Christian hymn often suggest that these verses about the Baptist were an addition to the hymn, not an original part of it. If this is so, the manner in which they were redacted supports our view that the structure of the passage is chiastic. His image in the artwork here seems to depict his “brood of vipers” message a little more closely than the one that John’s gospel records. What he offers here fits distinctly into the themes of his prologue.

One of my Bible college prof’s once claimed that John 1:6 was his favorite verse in the Greek text, literally “There came a man sent from God a name to him John.” The NRSV does just fine.

John 1:6-8, NRSV
     There was a man sent from God,
          whose name was John.
     He came as a witness to testify to the light,
          so that all might believe through him.
     He himself was not the light,
          but he came to testify to the light.

Isaiah 40:1-11 (A voice in the desert)

John 1:15, NET
     John testified about him and shouted out,
          “This one is the one about whom I said,
     ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am,
          because he existed before me.’”

Malachi 3:1-4, 4:1-5 (The messenger who prepares the way)

John connects the Baptist’s message with light and with the pre-existence of the Word. As great a prophet as the Baptist was, he is not the promised one. Jesus in fact called him “the greatest man born of a woman” in Luke 7 and Matthew 11. It seems nobody really talks much about John the Baptist without mentioning this incident. To me, this is rather unfortunate — the affair is recounted as the doubting of John, which Jesus counters by saying nobody has ever lived who is greater than John… with no exception made for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Moses, Elijah, or Elisha. Jesus actually identifies John plainly as the promised forerunner, the “Elijah who was to come” and caps off his lament over the lack of acceptance of his message and John’s with the wonderful little parable, “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” I wonder if we should understand John’s actions as being wise in sending his disciples to Jesus… knowing his time was short and wanting them to see Jesus for themselves so that they would make a transition to become his disciples when the time came. We don’t know what became of John’s disciples, but perhaps they recalled John’s words, “He must increase, I must decrease,” and they realized that John saw himself as being necessarily superseded by Jesus, and recalling this, perhaps they were blessed to “not fall away on account of [him].”

I sneaked some of Matthew 11 into last week’s evening prayers in the book, paired up with a short reflection from Blaise Pascal. This week, we find the themes surrounding John the Baptist from John 1 are also in the selected Old Testament texts. For those praying through the book, this week’s evening prayers may look a little strange, drawing heavily from Isaiah 35, where a desert is replaced by a lush land with a Holy Highway running through it. It speaks of peace and hope, to encourage those with weak knees and fearful hearts: God is coming to save us! When I think of John’s cry from the desert for a straight path for the Lord, Isaiah 35 comes to mind… the Way of Holiness in which we long to walk, which is how the evening prayer (and this post) came to end with the following blessing:

May you learn to walk
     on the Highway of Holiness;
May the Spirit guide you,
     and Christ walk beside you;
May you be encouraged and strengthened,
     in every step of your journey,
Until you reach the place prepared for you,
     safe in the Father’s House.

† In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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