The traditional hymn, “On Jordan’s Bank” features the familiar figure if John the Baptist, the voice crying out in the wilderness:
On Jordan’ bank the Baptist cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.
Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
Make straight the way for God within,
Prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.
For thou art our salvation, Lord,
Our refuge and our great reward;
Without thy grace we waste away
Like flowers that wither and decay.
To heal the sick stretch out they hand,
And bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
Earth’s own true loveliness once more.
All praise. eternal Son to thee,
Whose advent doth thy people free;
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.
All of the words of this classic hymn speak to our essential tasks this advent: to prepare our hearts, to accept God’s grace, to dismiss resistance, contrariness, and distraction, to great the lovely advent of salvation with joy and cries of deliverance.
The life of John the Baptist was dedicated to this Advent of redemption and release. You and I have the realization of this promise in full. Christ himself has prepared his royal highway in our hearts. We should “awaken and hearken” and stand to greet him when he comes.
One of the most important aspects of our keeping of Advent relates to the way in which the coming of Christ fulfills the Old Covenant God made with Israel.
For instance, Elijah is expected before the coming of the Messiah. This inspired image communicates the truth that the Messiah will perfectly fulfill all that the prophets foretold and all they stood for. Elijah will come again and declare it to be so.
Indeed Elijah does appear, with Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration, but this is to the small, select group of Peter, James, and John.
Our Lord, however, would give us to believe that the public face of Elijah in this, the time of his coming, is, in fact, John the Baptist.
John the Baptist is the prophet’s prophet- and he is the last prophet of the Advent of Christ.
No other prophet was privileged to see the very face of the Messiah he heralded. John alone has his honor: John, in his camel’s hair and his strange and spare diet.
If we want to see how the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the new, we should look at John the Baptist. He sees the sunrise of the new Kingdom in his own time. So do we, in this Advent season.
-from Prepare the Way: Daily Meditations for Advent by Dr. Ronald Thomas