The Jesse Tree
Arts & Faith: Advent
Geertgen tot Sint Jans, “Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness,” 15th century
In Geertgen tot Sint Jans’ Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, we meet the prophet in the wilderness. A lamb keeps him company as John sits on a jutting rock by a creek, heavily cloaked, deep in thought. Although known for his fiery passion, here we see a different side of St. John: introspective, prayerful, meditative. The scene brings to mind Christ’s own time in the wilderness, a time of prayer, trial, and temptation right after he meets St. John at the Jordan. Could it be that John was preparing the way for the Lord’s own trial in the wilderness?
Just as St. John might invite Christ into the wilderness, he also prepares the way for us to venture into our own wilderness. In the wilderness of our lives, we thirst for God’s grace the most. In our daily dry existence, any quick quench tempts us, even as we know that our thirst runs deeper. In the wilderness, St. John prepares the way by prayer; his struggle there is not against the corrupt king, but against the desire of his will. Before he preaches repentance and calls for justice, he prays and ponders his utter reliance on God. And even in the midst of this spiritual struggle, he finds that God’s grace already holds him; he is seated by a life-giving stream, and the lamb curls up close by, both symbols to demonstrate God’s presence.
In these days of Advent, we experience the already and the not yet. We are in the wilderness, yet the life-giving grace of God is always and already there. At the same time, we still await the fullness of glory, the ultimate quenching of our thirst. May our own lives of prayer prepare the way of the Lord within us as we await his coming.
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.
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