St Gregory the Great reminds us that by placing this narrative in an historical context that is Roman and Jewish, St Luke shows that the word of God that comes to John aming kings and priests is a significant event in world history and the history of salvation..
St Ambrose tells us that the Son of God, who is to gather the Church first works in a servant; the Church begins not from a man, but from the Word of God. The Word came, and the voice followed.
Origen reminds us that the word ‘Jordan’ means ‘descending’, and it is the descending river of God, one running with vigorous force – the Lord God our Saviour. Into Him we are baptised with true, saving, water. Baptism is also preached for the remission of sins. St Gregory, pointing out that John the Baptist was not able to bestow a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, bestows a baptism of repentance on many; he preaches a baptism that would take away sins, but only Christ could give that baptism. So John is the forerunner of the Incarnate Word and prepares the way for the Redeemer who will preach the baptism which forgives our sins.
St Cyril of Alexandria adds that the fruit of repentance is, in the highest degree, faith in Christ. Next to it is the evangelic mode of life, and in general terms the works of righteousness as opposed to sin, which the penitent must bring forth as fruits worthy of repentance.
Origen thought that John’s baptism enrolled the people in preparatory catechetical lectures which would bear forth the fruit of repentance and thus, as St Cyril commented, prepare us for the reception of Christ. That way is a catechetical one, a way of life in the person and the works of the Messiah.
The words of Isaiah 40 remind us of the great changes that will come with the Incarnate Word, and that no barriers can hold against him. We are to be preapred for wonders and signs, and John’s work is the preparation of our hearts.
So, for this second Sunday of Advent, we are pointed in the direction of the coming of the Incarnate Word. The prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth have been answered, and after the Visitation it will be a while yet before the two cousins meet – but God’s work is being done and the way prepared. How are we preparing ourselves spiritually for Christmas?