The Word for Sunday: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120714.cfm
Is 40: 1-5, 9-11
2 Pt 3: 8-14
Mk 1: 1-8
I have wondered now and then that if the internet, websites or blogs were available to Jesus, John the Baptist, the Gospel Evangelists and St. Paul, would they have used them? Surely, St. Paul at least would have found the internet useful for communication between the ancient Christian communities. His famed Epistles would have been spread far and wide in an instant. Jesus’ preaching could have been read over and over again by crowds in distant regions. The Gospel writers could have told the powerful life changing events of Jesus’ ministry, his death and resurrection and offered a blog for their personal reflections. Indeed the Good News of the Gospel would have developed in a far different manner than it did.
Yet, this Sunday we see a far more primitive, by today’s standards, and basic method of communication: “John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The baptizer, a strange and unsettling figure in some ways, stands along the shore of a well-known river and apparently engaged the hungry crowds through his charismatic preaching and his cleansing baptism in the Jordan River. No books, no newspapers, no internet, websites or blog - just a voice of conviction and his charismatic persona.
Yet the force and presence of this “voice” in the desert has become the quintessential call passed on from generation to generation as we “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The fiery cry of John, like a television or radio announcer about to present a significant person of great notoriety, prepares anyone who would listen for Jesus formal coming. As he (Jesus) is about to appear, we must be prepared and ready. How? Conversion and repentance of personal sin and the water of baptism is a rich sign of that repentance.
However, this figure John points to is no rock star, movie personality, or influential political figure, here today and gone tomorrow. This is the humble servant of God, the Lord who now enters our lives in human history and pushes forward the spirit of the ancient prophets and specifically of John himself. He, John reminds us, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” He fulfills all that the prophets and Jewish people hoped for. John sets the stage and raises the bar of expectation that something, someone in fact, will profoundly move history in a new direction. John’s voice, then, is to be heard over and over again since the call to conversion is a daily invitation we all have.
We know there is something innate in the human spirit that longs for someone more powerful than us. Those who study the power of an addiction, for example, may feel the pull of the addiction is more powerful than them. It could be alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling, or even technology. It could be something less but some repetitive behavior that I feel impossible to live without and that which consumes my time in an unhealthy way. In its darkest most destructive form an addiction can destroy not only the person who is the addict but his/her family as well.
That power over us can only be overcome through hard work and in its purest form through faith as well.
We also long for community. We are social creatures; made for one another and God intends us to live in relationship not isolation. True loneliness is a feeling of isolation and pain.
John’s voice promises all a way to follow that will free us from isolation and powers which can destroy rather than build up. As Isaiah speaks in our first reading this Sunday: “Comfort, give comfort to my people . . . every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low . . .then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” Jesus’ coming among us provides the WAY to freedom and peace. In his coming the isolated are brought to community and the powers that destroy our freedom are broken though an embrace of his role and his way in our life.
Both Isaiah and John provide these images of great geographical changes which are symbolic of these forces and powers over us. This person of whom John speaks is the One who will free us and, as Isaiah writes: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”
These words of Isaiah brought solace to a people enslaved in a foreign land; a people exiled to Babylon who feared God had abandoned them. For us, they may symbolize enslavement in the form of moral confusion and a life weighed down by bad choices or the unexpected surprises we all deal with at time to time.
So we are ready to welcome a God who is mighty and strong yet at the same time gentle and comforting. In this end, this God will visit us not with force and fear but with mercy, gentleness and love. Yet, we must prepare and we must accept whatever process we need to turn our lives around and to welcome him at his coming.
Come Lord and set us free!
Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance in his company.
(Roman Missal: Collect for Sunday)