Ready the Way


John the BaptistMost saints have only one feast, however John the Baptist has more visibility on the liturgical calendar than most. In addition to the memorial of his martyrdom on August 29, the cousin of Jesus is one of the few saints for whom we celebrate a birthday (June 24). He is a central figure in the gospels of the Advent season, and he returns again at the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord after Christmas. He even appears on the Feast of the Visitation (May 31) and the Solemnity of the Assumption (August 15). Lastly, he is mentioned in the song of his father Zechariah that is prayed every day of the year in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Saint John would probably be embarrassed by all this attention. Jesus himself spoke high praise about his cousin.

“This is the one about whom scripture says: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you. He will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:25-28)


I suspect the Baptist would only shout “Amen” to the words of his cousin and Lord. The Gospels record that John’s consistent mission throughout his life was simply to point the way to Jesus. As an unborn infant he stirred in his mother Elizabeth’s womb during the visitation of Mary, who was carrying Jesus within her. During his public ministry at the Jordan River, he preached repentance from sins and the coming of One mightier than he. “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8) And his words of testimony for Christ are part of the Rite of Communion at every Eucharistic liturgy: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world…” (John 1:29)

Curtis Stephan’s song “Ready the Way” can perhaps be seen as a “mission statement” for John the Baptist. This relatively recent hymn has quickly captured the hearts of worshippers across all generations, with verses from Isaiah 40 that are proclaimed in the readings every Advent:

Make straight the road,
raise the valleys and mountains made low.
Turning from sin, let the broken be whole,
and ready the way of the Lord.


As we count down the days to Christmas, let us not despair of our many busy tasks, or of consumerism or the state of the world. May we join John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus who is, after all, the reason for this season.

Let us see your face;
in our hearts we prepare a place.
Come bring this world your mercy and grace,
as we ready the way for you, Lord.


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