December 6, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist both point to Jesus

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (cf. Mt 3:1-3)

The Second Sunday of Advent falls on Dec. 8 this year. That causes us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception a day later on Monday, Dec. 9.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written that the two great Advent figures are Mary and St. John the Baptist. Both bring to conclusion the time of preparation and waiting that characterized Israel’s hope that God’s promises would be fulfilled. Both point to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, the first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah proposes the glorious vision of hope that will be fulfilled when God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, comes:

“On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,
and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the Earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious” (Is 11:1-10).

An entirely different world is prophesied from anything known before. This is the world that Mary prefigures by her sinlessness, her Immaculate Conception. And it is the future that John anticipates as he calls the people of Israel to a baptism of repentance.

“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,” John says, “but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (cf. Mt 3:11-12).

What is coming (the reign of God) is a time of unparalleled peace and justice, but it will be preceded by a baptism of unquenchable fire that burns away “every tree that does not bear good fruit” (Mt 3:10). To prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah, and to be ready for the new world his coming inaugurates, we must repent.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception calls attention to the way that Mary, who was conceived without original sin, is different from us. But as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has observed, “This privilege given to Mary, which sets her apart from our common condition, does not distance her from us, but on the contrary, it brings her closer. While sin divides, separating us from one another, Mary’s purity makes her infinitely close to our hearts, attentive to each of us and desirous of our true good.” Mary’s difference does not separate her from us; her purity makes her more open and accessible to all of us, her children.

During this special time, as we begin a new Church year and prepare for Christmas, we are invited to stay close to Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother.

Like John the Baptist, Mary points the way to her son. She reminds us of the miracles Jesus works in our daily lives, and she invites us to respond with open hearts, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). †

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