MEMORIAL OF SAINTS BASIL THE GREAT AND GREGORY NANZIANZEN, BISHOPS AND DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH

January 2, 2019

1 John 2:22-28

 

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

 

Psalm 98:1-4

 

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.

He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;

 

John 1:19-28

 

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 

(NRSVCE)

 

Meditation

 

As we read the conversation between John the Baptist and the Pharisees questioning him today, we may well be amazed by the depth, the certainty, and yet the mystery of John’s faith in Jesus the Christ. John, we recall, had in fact encountered the Messiah during his lifetime, but in the most veiled manner possible; while both of them were yet in their mothers’ wombs. John could not have a conscious memory of this encounter, but it had left its mark on his soul. He knew the presence of the Christ, and he would know it again. And he was certain that the Messiah, his Lord, lived and walked among his fellow men as one unknown. As John was in the wilderness until his manifestation to Israel, we are given to understand that he did not encounter Jesus, though they were kin, again, until Jesus came to him for baptism. So here John has based his entire identity on one whose identity he does not quite know.

 

We can contrast this mysterious and certain faith of John the Baptist with the antichrists that John the disciple warns about in his letter. The first letter of John was written to address a serious situation in the early church, in which false teachers had arisen who were teaching against the divinity of the Christ and also proclaiming themselves sinless and exempt from following the commandments. John, therefore, wrote to the community to denounce this denial of the Christ, and to affirm that freedom from sin and eternal life are found through faith in Christ alone, whom we love by keeping, and not discarding, His commandments. Like John the Baptist, who knew the presence of Christ and was able to spend his life proclaiming the Christ’s coming without even knowing His personal identity, John the disciple urges his readers to hold fast to the Christ whom they know and His gospel, and not to be dissuaded by the spirit of antichrist.

 

Today, we can identify with John the Baptist as well as the first readers of John the disciple’s letter. Like John the Baptist, we have encountered Christ and know His presence. We may feel unequal or unworthy of the task of proclaiming Him to the world, to those who need to know Him. But the Baptizer can reassure us, that knowing Christ even to the extent we know Him is enough. If John could baptize in a name he did not even know, how much more should we talk about the Christ when we have been given the power of His Name? 

 

And as modern readers of John the disciple’s letter, we may feel our situation not dissimilar from the one nearly two thousand years ago, in which antichrists are in no short supply and the commandments are dismissed as preference at best and bigotry at worst. Let us take courage from the readings today to hold fast to what we have received, to grow ever closer to Jesus and through Him to Our Father in heaven, and to lead exemplary lives rooted in the commandments and overflowing with love. Let’s pray for that grace today, in Jesus’s name and through the intercession of Mary and all the saints.

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