Episco-Fact #167
December 5, 2019

Why do we have two weeks of readings in Advent where we hear about John the Baptist and not Jesus?

The answer to this question is simple and it is long. It has to do with the purpose of the season and the place of John the Baptist (JBap) in salvation history. Since the season of Advent is about—"coming."

Since the time Advent was established as a season of the church year, its purpose has been to prepare church people for the coming of Jesus, first as a representative of God to establish His kingdom, both in his incarnation and his second coming, and as the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. During the time of Jesus, the people of Judea, Galilee, and Jesus himself thought of JBap as a prophet (See: Matthew 3.3-5; 11.11-14; 17.11-13; and 21:25-26). These references, especially to JBap filling the role of annunciator concerning the representative of God, come from the interpretation of some Jews that the messiah was a real person whom Elijah, who had not died but had been translated into heaven (2 Kings 2:1-9), would proclaim. The relationship of all of this is complicated, and the prophecies the church focused on are able to be looked at in other ways.

Therefore, as preparation for Jesus's coming, the church found it appropriate and then made it tradition to explore the incarnation through prophetic witness, especially the witness of JBap. So, we get readings over the three liturgical years (A, B, C) from Isaiah (a lot of them), Jeremiah, Malachi, Zephaniah, and Micah, as well as Gospel readings about JBap. The prophets probably were not thinking of Jesus when they prophesied, but the early church saw the life and witness of Jesus in their oracles. And JBap, who started as a figure independent of the person of Jesus, came to be interpreted in the light of Jesus as well.

It is now impossible, if one is a member of a liturgical church like ours (see: Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Orthodox Church) to avoid John the Baptist in the season of Advent, and that seems reasonably fair since Jesus said that of those born of a woman, no one is greater than John (Matthew 11:11).