In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah: A voice cries in the wilderness: Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.
In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
To help us to prepare for the coming of Christ, the Gospel puts before us the figure of John the Baptist, and recalls his mission and his message. It does so in great detail, inserting his activity in a precise period of human history. The precursor of Jesus is a real person, well known to his contemporaries. His words resound today, as they did then, to call us to turn again to God and to look forward to the salvation he offers. God has taken seriously his decision to come into our world, by becoming one of us. He wanted his coming to be announced beforehand and he wants us to wait for him actively. May the memory of the precursor’s mission today, while we are awaiting the coming of our Lord, inspire us to be the voice that proclaims his coming in the desert of today’s world!
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Our brief text, which speaks of the mission of John the Baptist, is made up of two distinct parts: the historical context (Lk 3, 1-2) and the description of the activity of John the Baptist (Lk 3,3-6).
Although he tells the story of the birth and infancy of Jesus (and of John the Baptist), it is appropriate that Luke should begin his Gospel by introducing the Baptist, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” and indicating his place in the history of the time. This presentation is not just by chance. Before he describes the role of Jesus in the history of the human race, the evangelist begins, not with the precursor of the Messiah, but with the Word of God, at a particular point in time and in a specific geographic area. A precise identification of the place and circumstances could easily give us the wrong idea. What is important is not historical accuracy but the decision taken by God. The word of God “came to John in the wilderness.” Before a voice could proclaim loudly the Saviour who was to come, God must first speak. The Baptist owes his mission and his message to the Word of God that came to him in the desert. The Word converted him into a voice that proclaimed salvation.
Made prophet by the Word he received, the Baptist was able to act as such, preaching a baptism of conversion to God. The Son of the Word did nothing other than fulfil the Word. The quote from the prophecy of Isaiah describes well the activity of John the Baptist, and explains the purpose of his “baptism of conversion”. John dedicated himself to preparing for the arrival of the one who was to come. His message was concerned, not so much with communicating the salvation that was near at hand, but with the necessity of preparing for its coming. The urgent need to make straight the paths and fill in the valleys was not born in the hearts of those who had need of salvation, but from the one who was coming and was already on the way. It is not those who feel bad, or think they are bad, who see the need for conversion, but those who know that salvation is on the way. God our Saviour will let himself be seen and found by those who prepare for his coming.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Luke is careful to insert the figure and the preaching of John the Baptist in human history. In this way he manages to highlight the universal significance of the work of the Precursor of Jesus. The world is witness and recipient of his proclamation, in which the promise of forgiveness is preceded by a call to conversion. Anyone who today opens the way for the Lord to come, will soon receive salvation. His coming is completely gratuitous. The Lord does not come because people are waiting for him, or because they deserve him, but because he loves us. However, the fact that his coming is gratuitous does not mean that it does not have to be prepared for. Listening to the voice crying in the wilderness today involves waiting expectantly for our Saviour and acknowledging the urgency of our need for conversion to God. There is no hope without conversion. It is not possible to desire the higher goods unless we first turn away from evil. Anyone who is looking forward to the Lord’s coming must lament his absence and live already according to his will. The absence of the one who is to come is reason for us to live as he would want us to live.
Maybe we are envious of the people of John the Baptist’s time who were able to see him close at hand and hear him preaching about the nearness of God. They were invited by him to prepare the way of Lord with urgency. Nowadays, in fact, we find almost no one around us to remind us of the Lord. Not only do we feel the absence of God, but we don’t even have people of strong faith to remind us that the Lord is coming. We still need precursors of God who will proclaim his coming. When we do not pay enough heed to the fact that we have left God, we need to remember that God comes only to people who are waiting for him. And those who are waiting for him have an obligation to prepare the way for him. He will not visit us if we do not repair the road he has to travel to reach us.
We cannot but envy the people who hear the voice of one crying in the wilderness, who have found a precursor of the God who is coming. And yet, no one is denied this voice. God sends his precursor, for he is determined to draw near to each one of us. Precisely because God wants to meet each one of us, he continues to send persons and events, which, if we take them seriously, will help us to become aware of his absence in our lives. This is our personal wilderness. Our problem is not that we have never heard the good news that God wants to come to us and is already on the way. Our problem is, rather, that we do not really believe that he is no longer with us, and we do not want to admit that in our hearts we have lost sight of God.
We are unable to believe that he will come again, because we do not want to admit that, once again, we have lost him. We do not accept the people who tell us to prepare for his coming. And because we have no intention of preparing for his coming, we do not hear the voice that tells us he is on the way. The voice of the Precursor has always cried out in the wilderness. It is because we do not hear the voices that are crying out in our own day, that it is impossible for us to met God anew. It is a pity, a real pity, that God remains absent from our lives simply because we do not feel his absence, and we are not even preparing the road he wants to take to come to us. We live without God only because we do not prepare a way for him to come into our hearts and our lives.
If we don’t want to run that risk, let’s begin by listening to the people who speak to us about God. Let’s try to pay more attention to the people who help us to understand that we still have a God, that this world is not paradise, that our family is not the home we long for, and that there is still a lot of evil in our hearts. All this will not be in vain if it helps us to acknowledge God’s absence and to discover how much we need him in our world, in our families and in our hearts. We ought to appreciate anyone who makes us realize that we are living in the absence of God more than in his presence. It could be anyone, friend or stranger; or anything, a sudden illness or an unexpected joy, an unexplained tragedy or a welcome success, a word from someone else or the voice of our own conscience. God can make use of anyone or anything to tell us he is near. All we have to do is to feel him a bit nearer or desire him a bit more, in order to hear the voice of the precursor assigned to us.
God still sends someone to go before him and foretell his coming, but he does not always find people waiting. We put too many obstacles in his way. We are too preoccupied with our own problems, maybe even the problems we have with God, and we overlook the problems God has in trying to come to us. And yet, only those who prepare the way will see the salvation of God. God is coming to be close to us. We do not need to give him reasons to come, or beg him to hasten. All we have to do is to make straight the paths and fill in the valleys. We search for him because we miss him so much, and we prepare for his coming. Now is the time to think about what separates us from God, and try to see what is the first thing we must renounce, in order to make sure we do not renounce God. We must not put God in the position where he has to renounce us! Let us not lose this opportunity of meeting God, just because we do not hear the voices that tell us he is coming. It would be the height of foolishness to miss out on meeting God simply because we were not expecting him.
We can live in patient expectation if we decide to listen to the people who speak to us about God. We can also become messengers of God, if we hope in him and prepare the way for him. May we never lose the joy of knowing that he is near! May hope ever increase in us, and may we do all we can to share that joy and hope with others! The best way of preparing for God’s coming is to convince the people around us to prepare the way of the Lord with us. If we share the work and share our hopes, the effort will be less painful and the time of waiting will seem shorter. God cannot fail to let himself be found by people who live their lives proclaiming his coming to others. He will not refuse to come to those who have opened the way for others. The first to find God will be the one who becomes a path for him to come to others.
Today’s world and today’s Church are in need of men and women who will be precursors of God, believers who are so sure of his coming that they devote themselves to proclaiming it. Because there is no one proclaiming his coming, we don’t bother to prepare the way. It is because God is not expected that he is not recognised when he comes. Only those who expect him, and really prepare for his coming, will see him. Only the servant who is waiting will meet his Lord face to face. Let us not celebrate yet another Advent and allow it to go by without making an impact on our lives. If we do not rediscover our hope in God, and become a reason of hope for others, then this opportunity will pass unnoticed. Among the many noises and voices, let us seek the voice that speaks of the coming of God. May the voice of God resound in our lives! Then we will celebrate this year’s Advent as it should be celebrated.
let neither our daily work nor the cares of this life
prevent us from hastening to meet your Son.
Enlighten us with your wisdom
and lead us into his company.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
“Skye Cuillin” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/