In our Gospel reading for today, we hear about the birth of John the Baptist. The circumstances about John’s birth are almost as remarkable as those concerning Jesus! When the people reflected on the fact that Elizabeth even conceived a child, and then, when Zechariah had confirmed in writing (because he was struck mute by the angel Gabriel) that the baby’s name was to be John, and then he was able to speak, they began to ask each other, “What, then, will this child be?” For, as Luke writes, “The hand of the Lord was with him.”
What, then, did John the Baptist turn out to be? For us Christians, John the Baptist became the fulfillment of the prophecies that told of a messenger that would come before the appearance of the Messiah. In our first reading, God speaks through the prophet Malachi: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” And later, we hear, “Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
John the Baptist came and preached repentance as preparation for the coming of the Messiah, exhorting the people to turn back to God. One of the ways we demonstrate our turning back to God is to turn our hearts to each other.
In these last few hours of Advent, we can still make room for Jesus in our hearts by making room for others. Sometimes the Christmas season is a time of stress, and tensions within a family are heightened, not eased. But maybe, just maybe, this Christmas can be different. May we let the Baptist’s call for repentance open our hearts to turn toward Jesus and toward each other.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.