King servant our Lord
January 10th, 2017
By Sister Maria Catherine Toon, OP
Typically kings possess an entourage of personal staff that proves to be as functional as it is impressive. But there is always one who races ahead of the pack to broadcast the king’s movements to the people. Even this announcer, his words, and personality give the people an indication of what kind of a ruler the king is. Each subject wants the assurance that the king will truly have the good of his subjects at heart.
John the Baptist is the voice, the announcer for the Messiah’s entrance onto the world stage. The fact that Christ has a prophet to make the way for his coming is a signal of his royal dignity. What is the announcer like? What clues does he give to signal the advent of the savior?
The most important piece of information that John the Baptist reveals is that Christ is the “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The Jews were anticipating a virtuous political leader, or in other words, a really good man. But they were not expecting God in the flesh. John’s statement is a radical one.
The early church father Athanasius keenly addresses the dilemma and paradox of Christ’s entrance into the world in his groundbreaking essay, “On the Incarnation.” He poses this dilemma to his interlocutors (people who were arguing that Christ was not equal to the father but secondary to him): Man was created to participate in the life of God, but through sin partakes of corruption and destruction. Should God allow the goodness of his creation to sink back into nothingness? God had warned that man would die if he took the fruit in the garden. Can he go back on his word, and look like a liar? Or should he administer the punishment and be ruthless in judgment? Athanasius gave this answer: In Christ’s incarnation God takes on human flesh, and dies. By doing so he fulfills the punishment prescribed for sin, yet he can save humanity at the same time because of his divinity’s union with the flesh. This is what the church calls the hypostatic union. So, John the Baptist sends a clear signal that the king will sacrifice himself against the onslaught of his people’s enemy - sin. His sacrifice will be so effective as to cleanly wipe out any trace of sin for the entire human race.
But who is the king? John’s more important mission is to make Christ (the king who sacrifices himself) known. Christ is the one person who, while fully possessing the weakness of human nature, can eradicate sin in us, but he also simultaneously elevates our nature to friendship with God. He sent a prophet ahead whose voice resounds through generations to assure us of our loving God’s presence. He is Emmanuel (God with us) and the lamb who dies for us.
Sister Maria is a perpetually professed member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.
From January 12, 2017 issue of Catholic San Francisco.