Today’s scriptures present a beautiful illustration of how we believe that the promises of the Old Testament are brought to fulfillment in the New, in the person of Jesus Christ. The figure who announces and hastens this blossoming of prophecy into reality is John the Baptist, who has long been regarded as a bridge figure between the two Testaments of the Christian Bible and who makes his own prophetic debut in the gospel. Before we see how John plays such a key role in the coming of the redeemer we should examine the preceding readings to see how they stand as parallels to John, spanning the Old and New Testaments and anticipating the fullness of our salvation.
First, we have a rare appearance at mass of the Book of Baruch. Once every three years we read this passage from Baruch during Advent, and each year at the Easter Vigil liturgy we read a different section of this fascinating but obscure book. It is hard to date the Book of Baruch precisely because the events it describes can be understood as referring to several periods of Israel’s history. Baruch’s words are set in the atmosphere of the Babylonian exile, yet they more likely come from the time of Daniel and the Maccabees less than two centuries before Christ, and parts of Baruch may even have been written in the early Christian era.
In spite of being difficult to date, the Book of Baruch delivers today a magnificent message of hope—something we all need—reminding the people of Israel that one day salvation will be theirs: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship” (Bar 5:1, 3-4). In other words, Baruch tells the Israelites that while they are suffering for the moment, a tragic fate which would pursue the Jewish people through history, they would be redeemed by the Lord and would again shine with the glory of God’s chosen people.
The Psalmist sounds a similar note when he wrote: “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing….The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Ps 126:1-3). Thinking of what God had done for Israel in bringing them back from their exile in Babylon, the Psalmist still looks ahead to a definitive redemption, not only from earthly adversaries but from enmity itself.
In the Letter to the Philippians Saint Paul echoes this pattern of promises and hope that bridges the Old and New Testaments when he writes: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). Paul is saying that God will sustain those who believe in Christ so that they abide in him faithfully to the end—till Christ comes again. Paul thus teaches that as promised in the pages of the Old Testament we have already been saved, (Rom 8:24), yet we still await the fullness of that salvation.
Returning to John the Baptist, we see that he was chosen by God to be the forerunner of Christ, to join the promises and hopes of the Old Testament with their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Together with John let us help to “Prepare the way of the Lord” so that all of our heavenly Father’s children might “see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4, 6).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.