†††††††† 31St Week after Pentecost, Sunday before Theophany, January 15th, 2012.
Mark the Evangelist ties the beginning of the Gospel, that is, the start of the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with John the Baptist's preaching. The era of the Old Testament, i.e., the age of prophecy and prototypes, had ended and the time for their realization had come: I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face (Malachi. 3,1). According to the Evangelist, this prophecy refers to John the Baptist. He truly deserves the name angel because his life resembled an angel's. He lived in the desert, wore clothes of camel hair tied with a belt. He lived on what he could find in the desert: locusts and wild honey.
The Evangelist Luke speaks of John the Baptist's early years: And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel (Mark 1, 80). This indicates that he had lived in the desert from a young age. How could he have ended up there? Legend says that when Herod ordered the massacre of the innocents Elizabeth fled to the desert with her son to save him. After she died, one of God's angels cared for him.
When the time came, and as the Lord commanded, he began preaching, calling people who appeared to him to repentance. The Gospel also says: The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40, 3). John the Baptist had to prepare the way for the Lord. Preparing the way meant making people's hearts ready to receive the word of the Lord Jesus Christ. The obstacle to this was human sin. Therefore he convinced those who sought him out to repent and purify themselves through repentance. The teaching of John the Baptist attracted many, among who were people of varied callings: soldiers and tax collectors accepted baptism and confessed their sins. Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees also sought him out, not for baptism, but rather to see what was going on. John the Baptist met them harshly: O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh (Matthew 12, 34). They asked him who he was and why he was baptizing. Was he the Messiah, Elijah, or another of the prophets? But he rejected these suppositions and called himself merely the voice of one crying in the wilderness, sent to prepare the way for the one the latchet of whose shoes he was not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
†††††††† I indeed baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1, 8). With these words he indicated that his baptism was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, while the baptism established by the Lordóalthough also with waterówould include the participation of the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and it would be a rebirth in salvation.
†††††††† The call to repentance is always urgent. The Lord also began his ministry with this call, a call that applies to us, too. Repentance is also a second baptism. Baptism should only happen once in a person's life. But people fall easily into sin, often sinning unaware. Therefore the mystery of confession is a great sign of God's mercy. Let us avail ourselves of this mercy, so that we too can achieve salvation. Amen.