2nd January. Friday before Epiphany

Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen

Basil the Great (329-379) was bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed against the Arian heresy. Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers of the Church.

1st Reading: 1 John 2:22-28

The anointing of the Holy Spirit, received from Jesus, teaches you all things.

Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.

I write these things to you concerning those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.

Gospel: John 1:19-28

John the Baptist describes himself as the voice of one crying out in the desert

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.


John’s Challenging Demands

John the Baptist was called by God to prepare the way for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. In the Greek church tradition, John is given the title “prodromos”, and in the Western, Latin church he is “precursor” (forerunner), to honour his unique role in the story of our salvation. In order to prepare himself to be the spiritual guide for others, he was led by the Holy Spirit to an austere and contemplative lifestyle in the desert, from his youth until his early manhood, about thirty years of age.

At that stage he began his public mission as a preacher of repentance and renewal to his Jewish people. Clothed in a rough penitential garb of camel-skin, be announced the grace of God to all who came to him in search of repentance, and who went down into the waters of baptism for the washing away of their sins. He showed them simple ordinary ways to serve God in their daily lives, and proclaimed the imminent coming of the Messiah, who would pour out God’s Spirit more richly upon them.

Many of the people–especially those whom the Temple authorities regarded as marginal Jews (such as tax collectors and prostitutes) received John as the true herald of God, and his words were heard as those of a true prophet. To the official leaders of Judaism, the Priests and the Pharisees, John seemed more a threat than a blessing. Their resistance to a message requiring moral and spiritual renewal made them unable to hear the divine guidance latent in his words. Today’s Gospel is a sober reminder to all of us, but especially to church leaders, to listen to what the Holy Spirit says through the voices of awkward prophecy.


Who are you?

The question put to John the Baptist, “Who are you?” is one of the great questions of life. We can struggle to answer honestly or fully, “Who am I?” It’s easy to reply at a certain level by telling people what we do, “I am an accountant” or “I am a carpenter.” However, going below our job description (what we do) to who we are in inmost our core is much more difficult. And our answer to that deeper question can change as we go through life. How we answer it at this present moment in our lives is not how we would have answered it earlier in our lives.

For people of Christian faith, the answer to that question will be deeply influenced by our relationship with Jesus, because that relationship touches us at a very deep level, at our core. Saint Paul is the great example of that truth. If he were asked, “Who are you?” he might answer in the words of his letter to the Galatians, “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” His identity had become a Christ-stamped identity. When John the Baptist was asked that key question in today’s gospel, he cals himself a voice that cries in the wilderness. His identity was shaped by his relationship with Jesus. He is the voice who witnesses to the Word, the Word that has become flesh. Our own baptismal calling is to keep on growing into Christ so that our personal identity is more and more shaped by our relationship with him. [MH]


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