The word angel itself means messenger, and often throughout salvation history God has sent angels to bring messages and guidance to men. But he has also allowed men; such as prophets and other holy ones, to deliver his messages and guide his people as well. John the Baptist is certainly one of these men!
In today’s Gospel, we read from the very beginning of Mark (1:1-8). Mark chooses to begin his Gospel with the proclamation of Christ by John the Baptist in the desert. He does this by first repeating what was said by the prophet Malachi, and then by the prophet Isaiah.
The last book of the Old Testament; Malachi (3:1), proclaims a messenger (Elijah):
Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Consequently the name Malachi also means messenger.
Isaiah (40:3) also foretells the proclaiming Christ by John, as he assures the Israelites of their deliverance.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
What was John proclaiming in the desert? Baptism. “A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” to be exact. We know from Mark’s account, that people “of the whole” Judean countryside, as well as “all” those who lived in the city of Jerusalem were being baptized. This is certainly one of several scriptural references instructing us “all” (infancy and on) to be baptized. Here are some others: Rom 6:3-4, Acts 16:31-33, 1 Cor 2:1-10, Acts 10:47, 1 Cor 12:13, Mat 28:19, Mat 3:16-17.
In John 3, Jesus tells a Pharisee named Nicodemus that “unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When Nicodemus asks how this rebirth is possible, Jesus says that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (This verse is perhaps the most compelling reason to baptize infants in my opinion.)
There is another scriptural story about an angel messenger and baptism. Acts 10 tells of Cornelius, who we know was a centurion, and an upright and God-fearing man. Cornelius was visited by an angel, who told him to seek out Peter, and bring him to his home. Peter and the believers with him witnessed that as Peter was preaching “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” Therefore, Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Born of Water and Spirit
Each of us was naturally born of the flesh, and therefore we are flesh and not spirit. In order to attain this rebirth in the Spirit, we must be baptized in Jesus Christ – as he instructed Nicodemus. This was the message that John the Baptist proclaimed.
John was certainly set apart, with a special anointing from God. We know this from when he resided in his mother’s womb. Both the unborn John, and his mother Elizabeth were filled with the Holy Spirit upon hearing Mary’s voice:
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
What was it that the Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to say in that moment, when she was filled with the Holy Spirit? The next line of scripture tells us that Elizabeth exclaimed in a loud cry:
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Like mother, like son! Elizabeth believed there would be a fulfillment of the message that she would bear a child. John believed the fulfillment of the message, that one would come to save them through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth could not believe that such a favor should be granted to her; that the mother of the Lord should come to her, and be in her home. John could not believe that such a favor should be granted to him; that the Lord should ask him to baptize him, in the Jordan where he was baptizing.
Today’s readings certainly offer a great deal of comfort. The Lord is finally coming! Oppression and exile are over! We are shown the Lord’s kindness and benefits, and through baptism, given a path to salvation!
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
~2 Pt 3:8-14