Tuesday, December 01, 2015

In the Picture: John the Baptist

John the Baptist in the Desert  

Read: Mark 1.1-11
 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Phillipe de Champaigne, who was born in Brussels but worked mainly in the French court, painted John the Baptist clad in animal skin, in the wilderness. John is centre stage, looming large in the picture – see how the shadow falls across his pointing arm, out of the spotlight that falls on him. He is pointing away from himself, but it is hard, at first glance, to see what he is pointing at. Closer inspection reveals a blurry figure at the edge of the picture. This is Jesus, and it is to him that John directs our attention. The Latin words draped around the cross he carries say, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” words spoken by John (John 1.36) as he directs those who come to him to Jesus. He could easily have pursued fame and glory for himself, but he didn’t. He just did the work he was called to, preparing the way, and paid the ultimate price for it, beheaded at the whim of the powerful, whom he had rightly challenged (Mark 6.14-29). Although this scene might appear to have nothing to do with the Christmas story, John’s work as the forerunner to Christ is one of the most important messages in the stories of his birth. John has always, rightly, been important in our Advent preparations, reminding us to look out for the work of God rather than assuming that it is all about us!

  • If you could talk to John, as you see him in this picture, what would you say to him, and how do you think he might answer?
  • How easy do you find it to recognise when someone else is given a job you would have liked to have done yourself? Do you find it hard to accept that someone else might do it better than you?

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