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Come, O Root of Jesse
Saturday of the Third Week of Advent (O Radix Jesse)
In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. Once when he was serving as priest in his division’s turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute. Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”
Opening Prayer: Come, O Root of Jesse! Be a sign of love for me, so that I can be a sign of your love for all your people (based on today’s O Antiphon: O Radix Jesse).
- Consecrated to God: Today’s first Mass reading and Gospel passage have many parallels. Like Samson, St. John the Baptist was “consecrated to God from the womb” (Judges 13:5). Notice how both announcements of the conceptions of these consecrated men were proclaimed by an angel. The first did not announce his name, but said that his name “is wondrous” (Judges 13:18). In the Gospel, the angel revealed that his name was “Gabriel, who stand before God” (Luke 1:19), who also announced the coming of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26). The Holy Spirit came to both Samson and John, filling them with his divine love so they would be able to fulfill their missions. To be consecrated means to be set apart from the world for a sacred purpose. We can ask ourselves how we can consecrate our own lives to God in order to make them a sacred offering to him.
- What’s in a Name?: Gabriel proclaimed, “You shall name him John.” This name was not a family name (Luke 1:61). The people who heard of John’s grace-filled conception and the mysteries surrounding his birth wondered, “What, then, will this child be?” (Luke 1:66). A clue to who he would become was revealed in his name because it was tied to his mission. The name “John” means “God is gracious.” God is gracious because he is loving, kind, and merciful to his people. God sent John on a divine mission: to prepare the way for Jesus, the Son of God, who is loving, kind, and merciful par excellence. His name glorifies the Lord. Have you ever considered how your own name may be a clue to your own mission as a member of the Body of Christ?
- The New Elijah: Gabriel announced John’s mission along with his name. He said, “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17). Jesus gave testimony to John’s purpose after John had been arrested: “He is Elijah, the one who is to come” (Matthew 11:14). Malachi prophesied that God would send a new Elijah before the Messiah would arrive: “Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, Before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day; he will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers…” (Malachi 3:23). John was sent to convert hearts so that they would give and receive love, to turn their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (cf. Ezekiel 36:36). In short, God sent John to prepare his people to love and be loved. This is our primary purpose, the reason for our creation! Pope Francis said, “…we were created to love and be loved.”
Conversing with Christ: Jesus, I praise you for your goodness, mercy, and love. Prepare my heart for your coming! Turn the stony parts of my heart to flesh. Help me turn away from all selfishness in order to love and be loved by you. Fill me with the love of your Holy Spirit so that I may pour that love out to others.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will offer a spiritual work of mercy in thanksgiving for your love for all people. I will specifically look for an opportunity to be gracious and love others by forgiving offenses willingly.
For Further Reflection: View this masterpiece: John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Caraviaggio. Also, read this article from the St. Paul Center: “John the Baptist: In the Spirit and Power of Elijah.” The author ties St. John the Baptist and his mission to Moses, Jeremiah, and Elijah with many scriptural references.
Written by Carey Boyzuck.