In this passage we meet John the Baptist, described as coming at the perfectly appointed time in history to ready the world for the birth of Christ. John the Baptist is an outsider, one who comes from “the wilderness” to travel “into all the country around Jordan,” preaching and baptizing, preparing the way for the Messiah. So the figure of John himself is an unconventional, slightly otherworldly one, made even stranger by his having been the subject of prophesy many years before. From Isaiah:
A voice of one calling in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
The passage includes what we might call history-we are told the specific year of Caesar’s reign, including fairly detailed information about the political milieu-but the heart of the reading is really mystery: the mystery of the wilderness figure of John the Baptist, the echoes of ancient prophesy portending him, the strangeness of his message. We are reminded of the mystery not only of Christmas, but of Christ himself. Christmas reminds us of the center of our lives as people of faith, and the beauty in its mystery.
- Linda Crenshaw