Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk. 3:1-6
Preparing for Christ the Baptist’s Way
1. Last week, we read from Jeremiah, who prophesied during the Babylonian exile. He encouraged the Jews to be hopeful because God “Will raise up for David a just shoot.” Today his secretary, Baruch, continued with that vision of hope and restoration for the Babylonian exiles. He promised them: “Jerusalem, take off your mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the miter that displays the glory of the eternal name.” Baruch saw that God would visit his people and bring them home again with glory. “Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.” They must go through the desert where John the Baptist waits with the warning of repentance.
2. The children of Israel had to pass through the desert to learn the way of the Messiah. John was not the first person to make the inward journey through the desert. Many prophets before him and after found God by way of the desert. Moses discovered God in the desert. The Israelites were taught obedience and submission in the desert, where they wandered for 40 days and 40 nights. David fled his son Absalom into the desert and sought God’s protection. After the conversion of St. Paul, he went into the desert to seek clarification for his newfound faith and discovered his mission. Mohammed encountered Allah in the desert. Many monks and hermits spent a life of penitence and prayer in the desert. John the Baptist lived, prayed, and preached there as well. There he urged people to repent and prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus Christ, St. Luke reports, was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he encountered God in preparation for his mission. These men saw in the desert a place of refuge from the distraction and noise of everyday life. They did not run away from the world but went into the desert to better prepare to face the world.
3. The desert is a dry and unforgiving place; it exposes everyone there to the elements in their raw form. According to William Bausch: “You are as close to the edge of life and death as you could possibly be. No excess, no luxury, no illusions in the desert, just a total, vast, harsh emptiness. You live in total dependence, from hand to mouth, from day today. There are no distractions, no television sets, no microwaves, no cars, no nothing. Everything becomes intensely focused on the bare facts of existence, of yourself, and of God. There is just you – your utter, complete self and the vast emptiness of the desert. And the challenge the desert offers is this: what will you find there? Will you find God? If not there, then nowhere else.” It is fitting that John calls us to prepare for the coming of the Messiah by way of the desert. Here we will be humbled by the desert experience and find the Messiah. Then we would say with the Psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” To say this, however, we must be ready to do a few things right.
4. We must listen to the voice crying in the wilderness telling us to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” We have many mountains in life to either climb or bring low. Coronavirus and its mutable variables are daring us daily. A few months ago, it was the Delta variant, and now it is the Omicron variant. Can we ever get rid of this mountain? The only way to bring it down is through vaccination, booster shot, or whatever directives CDC gives us. This mountain has stopped many people from going to Mass; it must come down. We must bring down the mountain of laziness in prayer or doing other religious activities. Let us also work on our mountain of pride and arrogance. We must fill in the valley of cluttering by learning to do with less and giving away the superfluous. There is nothing to distract us in the desert, so we should do more with less and grow rich spiritually. Let go of too much and give them away, and you will find joy with the Messiah. There are also the winding roads in our life that we must make straight. Dishonesty, lies, corruption, gossip, hateful and malicious speeches, names calling in high places, and uncharitable behaviors are some of the crooked paths we must make straight. To make straight the winding road for the Messiah, we need proper tools. Prayer and wonderful sacramental life, springled with ample water of charitable acts, coated with the bitumen of forgiveness, mercy, and compassion, are the machinery needed. These would help us create a reconstructed road for the Messiah to pass into our hearts. Hence, John the Baptist calls us to repent. He urged us to have a change of heart, adopt a new way of doing things and see things differently. And so, I join St. Paul in the second reading to pray “That the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
5. I pray with St. Paul “That your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” Amen.
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP