St. John the Baptist

Traditionally the main figures for the season of Advent include Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist. I’ve written about Mary several times on this blog. And last Advent I wrote about St. Joseph. (You can find it by typing St. Joseph under search in the lower right.) This year I’d like to say a few words about St. John the Baptist who was featured in the Gospels of these past two Sundays. 

John the Baptist is not a sweet and cuddly kind of saint. Scripture tells us he lived in the wilderness, wore homemade camel hair clothing, and

John the Baptist, as portrayed by Michael York in the film "Jesus of Nazareth." York captures some of John's wildness.

John the Baptist, as portrayed by Michael York in the film “Jesus of Nazareth.” York captures some of John’s wildness.

ate locusts and wild honey. He’s not exactly the kind of guy you’d invite to your dinner party. In fact, if John were running for a political office, his public relations people would have to do a complete make-over! But John wasn’t  a politician; he was a prophet. This means he spoke his mind—or (more accurately) he spoke God’s mind. John called a spade a spade. He called a sin a sin. It was precisely this candor that landed him in prison and eventually cost him his head.

But John had a gentler side. He preached a baptism of repentance. He said no matter what your sin might be, God was ready to forgive you. What a consoling message! Being baptized was your first step toward forgiveness. So powerful was John’s message that crowds flocked to hear his words and to be baptized. Even Jesus showed up one day and asked to be baptized. At first John hesitated, sensing there was something “special” about this man. But he eventually baptized him. John was also humble. He kept saying that a greater one than he was coming who would baptize not with water, but with the Spirit. Later, as John languished alone in his dark, smelly prison cell, he sent some of his disciples to scope out Jesus to see if he was “the one.” His followers came back with the message: “Yes, he is the one.”

John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River.

John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River.

What does John have to teach us besides repentance and candor? I mentioned earlier that John ate locusts and wild honey. Fr. George Smiga (who teaches at St. Mary Seminary near me) sees great symbolism in this fact. In scripture, locusts are associated with ruin, upheaval, loss. Says Fr. Smiga, “The notable thing about John the Baptist is that he does not flee from locusts. He eats them!” John calls us to claim the misfortunes that befall us. He calls us to face the truth about our lives and ourselves. So eating locusts represents honesty. Honey, on the other hand, is always associated with God’s word. Throughout scripture God’s word is described as “sweet to the taste.” So the honey symbolizes faith. Fr. Smiga says both foods are necessary for a “complete meal.” We need both honesty and faith. If we have only

Honey represents the sweetness of our faith.

Honey represents the sweetness of our faith.

honesty, we can easily get discouraged. But faith alone is not enough. “As important as it is to believe that God is with us, we must also claim our brokenness, discouragement, and need, so that we can know who we are and open ourselves to God’s grace.” (Fr. Smiga’s thoughts are taken from Living with Christ, December 2014 issue, published by Bayard, Inc.)

The gospel for the third Sunday of Advent focuses on John the Baptist. The crowds pepper him with questions. Most importantly they want to know who he is. John replies, “I am the voice crying in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.'” That’s John’s job description. That’s his mission statement. He is preparing the road for the coming of Christ. We might ask ourselves, how are we preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus? Are we claiming our brokenness and pain? Are we in touch with the sweetness of our faith? Are our preparations for Christmas flowing from love? Do our preparations include opening our hearts (and maybe our appointment calendars and wallets) for those in special need?

We pray: St. John the Baptist, help us honestly to claim our brokenness and to savor the sweetness of the Word of God. By our lives this Advent season may we, like you, “make straight the way of the Lord.”

Does anything about John the Baptist speak to you today?

No Comments

  1. Emmett McMahon on December 15, 2014 at 2:55 am

    Nice little article..

  2. Kathleen Magiera on December 15, 2014 at 6:07 am

    Great Advent reflection Sr. Melannie after Sunday’s readings.

    John the Baptist’s honesty resonates with me. He is an upfront kind of kind. No sugar coating in his message.


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 16, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Dear Kathleen, Yes, John’s honesty is sometimes sorely lacking in our world…Thanks for your response! Sr. Melannie

  3. Amy @ love and be loved on December 15, 2014 at 7:05 am

    I love the metaphor and symbolism, the locust and honey, the challenges and the sweetness. It is good to be honest. And better to have God’s honey as a healing balm. Your priest friend is wise in his analysis. I love the concept of eating the locusts as claiming our brokenness. The act of claiming is powerful. It is the manifestation or completion of honesty.
    I love the depth of God’s scripture and story.
    Thank you for this piece.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 16, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks for writing, Amy, and sharing your feelings toward the content of this post. Yes, the depth of God’s scripture–and love! Sr. Melannie

  4. Chris Keil on December 15, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Nice! And even nicer to hear from you a former teacher and from Fr. Smiga a former pastor! I miss Fr. Smiga’s homilies and insights, need to check out his book!
    thank you. Happy Advent!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 16, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Dear Chris, Yes. Fr. Smiga is also pastor at St. Noel’s parish in Willoughby Hills, Ohio–where I’m originally from. The quotes are not from a book but from the monthly booklet, “Living with Christ.” I always look forward to Smiga’s insights. Great to hear from you again, Chris! Sr. Melannie (your old teacher!)

  5. Georgia Auckly on December 15, 2014 at 9:16 am

    That was a new concept for me about the meaning of the locusts and honey. I just hadn’t thought of that before and that is so interesting! That was an enjoyable and uplifting essay! I love John’s reply, “I am the voice crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      Yes, the concept was new for me too, Georgia. Glad you appreciated it! Thanks for writing. Sr. Melannie

  6. mary james on December 15, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Excellent symbols, thanx so much! I love what ST. Augustine
    says about John. He’s the voice, but Jesus is the Word!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on December 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      Dear Mary James, Thanks for the great St. Augustine quote! It’s a good Advent reminder! Melannie

  7. Annie on December 15, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    If John the Baptist were running for political office, which of our current political figures would be most like him? Perhaps it would be some that we would be reluctant to consider voting for because of their candor.

  8. Joy on December 16, 2014 at 11:37 am

    The locusts are part of our lives…tough to deal with…but because of our
    faith…we keep on walking…

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