John the Baptist has figured prominently in the readings of the past several weeks. As the forerunner to the Messiah, his role as Advent prophet is second only to Isaiah. And as we continue to reflect upon the Christmas mystery, St. John’s Gospel offers us John the Baptist’s testimony as the first sign of who Jesus truly is: The Messiah, the Word made flesh, the light of the world, the Lamb of God. And as we begin to see Jesus in all his glory, we see John gracefully stepping aside.
In today’s gospel, perhaps one of the most remarkable statements John makes is: “I confess I did not recognise him at first.” John’s whole life, even from before he was born, has been moulded and shaped around his mission as the forerunner of the Messiah. And yet here he is saying that when Jesus, that very messiah, entered into John’s desert world, John says he didn’t recognise him. What John’s confession tells us is that we can grow beyond our mistakes. He puts it behind him and moves on to acknowledge Jesus as the Lamb of God, the one for whom he has been waiting and preparing. But he doesn’t simply sweep it under the rug. He offers his own mistake as hope for those to whom he speaks, those who have yet to recognize and acknowledge the same Lamb of God. There’s still time, time for them to open their eyes, time for them to let go of their misperceptions. John offers them – and us – the opportunity to move forward, to let go of the past, and to learn from our mistakes.