The Advent Wreath
Today, the second Sunday of Advent, we light the second purple candle on our Advent wreath. This candle typically represents love - some traditions call this the "Bethlehem Candle," symbolising Christ's manger:
"This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
In this week's Gospel Reading Matthew describes the work and preaching of John the Baptist. John the Baptist appears in the tradition of the great prophets of Israel, preaching repentance and reform to the people of Israel. In fact, the description of John found in this reading is reminiscent of the description of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). In this reading, John directs a particularly pointed call to repentance to the Pharisees and Sadducees, parties within the Jewish community of the first century.
John marks the conversion of those who seek him out with a baptism of repentance. Other groups in this period are thought to have practised ritual washings for similar purposes, and John's baptism may have been related to the practices of the Essenes, a Jewish sect of the first century. John's baptism can be understood as an anticipation of Christian baptism. In this passage, John himself alludes to the difference between his baptism and the one yet to come: “I am baptising you with water, for repentance. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11).
In this reading, John makes very clear that his relationship to the Messiah yet to come (Jesus) is one of service and subservience: “….the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals” (Matthew 3:11). In the context of Matthew's Gospel, today's passage is followed by Jesus' baptism by John, an event that is attested to in all four of the Gospels and appears to have been the start of Jesus' public ministry.
John's preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of the Advent season. As John's message prepared the way for Jesus in the first century, we, too, are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus' coming. We respond to John's message by our repentance and reform of our lives. We are also called to be prophets of Christ, who announce by our lives, as John did, the coming of the Lord.