First Reading: Is 11:1-10; Psalm: 72. R. v. 7; Second Reading: Rom 15:4-9; Gospel: Mt 3:1-12
THE BAPTIST’S CLOTHING
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Succinctly, advent is a season of spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord. But the message of advent would be incomplete without hearing from the advent prophet who customarily speaks to us through words and images. We are all familiar with the advent prophet. The man known for his austere lifestyle and charged with the precursory task of making our advent season meaningful and worthwhile. The man of whom Jesus said that of all men born of women, none is greater than him. The great prophet – John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was a man who lived in a harsh condition. His habitation, clothing and diet are a clear testament. Speaking of his clothing and diet, the gospel reading of today according to the account of Matthew presented him thus, “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Mt 3:4). John also lived in the wilderness wherefrom he started his message of repentance. Weird? Of course yes. A wilderness is not a natural and convenient habitation for human survival. But John was happy and fulfilled and survived in this extreme condition amidst lack and austerity.
Let us have a closer look at this condition of John, especially his appearance and what this could be saying to us in this period of advent.
John the Baptist’s mode of dressing is typical of the attire of an ancient prophet. Elijah in particular whom John the Baptist personifies was the only prophet associated with similar attire. ‘“He wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”’ (2Kgs 1:8). Jesus consolidated the fact that John the Baptist was Elijah personified when he said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist . . . and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Mt 11:11,14).
The similarity of John’s clothing to that of the prophet Elijah goes without saying the connectedness of these two prophets. John, the New Testament Elijah was prophesied to continue the prophetic mission of the Old Testament Elijah by the prophet Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament. (Malachi 4:5). John would be the Elijah who would appear before the day of the Lord. So, the similarity of John’s and Elijah’s clothing was not just by coincidence. It has a symbolic meaning to our advent season. Hear what Jesus has to say regarding John:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in king’s houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (Mt 11:7-9).
From the above passage, among other things, Jesus draws our attention to the clothing of John the Baptist. John was not a man clothed in soft raiment; those who wear soft raiment are in king houses. John was clothed with a rough garment of camel’s hair like a prophet. His clothing spoke a message of their own. John’s rough clothing and his austere diet are clear images reflecting the self-sacrificing and the self-denying life of a prophet in contrast to the glamorous lifestyle of the rabbis and scribes of his time. So, John’s clothing instructs us to embrace a self-sacrificing and self-denying spirit in this period of advent.
Usually, we all plan for the Christmas season. Some of us save a lot of money for splurge celebration while some begin their financial spending right from the first week of December. As we make these savings and spending, we are often inclined to think only of our families and on few occasion our friends. But hardly do we factor into our budgets those not related to us either by blood or affiliation. Advent therefore invites us to shift the focus from ourselves; to relax a little on our spending and save some money not only for ourselves and families but also for those who have no one to celebrate with them.
Advent invites us to start making clear plans now on how to reach out to other people out there aside our families. Instead of saving some money for a family Christmas party, we could just plan for a low key dinner and save the rest of the money to visit prisons and orphanage homes to share some gifts and love. Instead of planning to spend the whole Christmas all by yourself, think of inviting a neighbour or visiting a sick friend to share the season with them. We could also plan on how to take out some time to phone friends and families that we have not reached out to for quite a long time. Advent is a season to plan how we could put smiles on the faces of people by denying ourselves certain comfortable lifestyles.
Preparing for the coming of the Lord is a time to evaluate our love and concern for other people. So advent is a season of retreat. A time we begin to reflect and think differently from the conventional way Christmas is usually celebrated. A time we learn to think less of ourselves and more of others. A time we should realise that the very simple way we can encounter God is when love is shared and not denied. So, when we think of the message of advent, think of John’s clothing.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, as we await your coming, we pray for the grace of selflessness and love so as to experience the blessings and fulfilment of your coming. Amen.