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Human beings are real specialists in preparation … we spend years in school, and perhaps college or university, preparing for the ‘future’. After becoming engaged we spend months preparing for the ‘big day’. As we step into adult life we begin an endless round of preparation as we look towards our ‘dream’ home, that special holiday … or whatever.
In today’s gospel reading we encounter the ultimate preparer … John the Baptist.
According to some scholars, John’s ministry lasted just three months. But … for 30 years … John’s life had been leading to that short period of less than a hundred days … that crucial short period during which he would be the one who prepared the way for the Messiah.
And how did John build the most important pathway in the history of humanity? He called those who came to hear him to repentance. He called them to change in order that they might be able to come closer to the one whose sandals John did not consider himself fit to untie.
John modelled something very important in his short ministry … he modelled humility. Despite being famous and popular in his own right … John stepped aside.
John recognized that for God to work in his life, and for God to continue his work on earth, he … John the Baptizer … had to step aside and allow Christ to begin another, even more important, round of preparation … preparation for the Kingdom of God.
We are journeying through the season of Advent … but, what does that mean to us?
- Is it just a temporal coincidence, or is it a meaningful journey?
- Are we allowing John to be our model?
- How are we making straight the way for the return of our Lord?
So, the big question is this … how do we, 2000 years on, bring John’s example to life in what often appears to be a God-forsaken world?
Firstly, we must utterly and wholeheartedly offer our lives to God in Christ. John the Baptizer realized that he had to decrease in order that Christ might increase … we are called to do no less. We must consciously offer ourselves to a deepening commitment to, and relationship with Jesus … only then can we truly be children of the Light that is called Christ.
Many of us struggle with the challenge of following Jesus. We struggle to abandon what we see as our fundamental right to do what we want … to please ourselves, no matter what the cost. We much prefer to follow our own path, rather than strive towards joining the straight path that John prepared for Christ.
John’s call to repentance echoes down through the ages to us today. That call to repentance is an invitation to take a different route … to come closer to God by recognizing and confessing our waywardness.
To repent is to show that we are really willing to admit our mistakes, and then to offer them to God.
Repentance means that we are willing to accept the consequences of our words and actions … it also means that we are willing to leave behind all that is destructive to our relationship with God.
John calls us to repent … to turn from self to God … to turn from sin to goodness … this is our first task as we strive to make straight the way of our Lord.
But … there is also a second task … a task that is less introspective … a turning from self to those around us.
As John set his life on a path of making straight the way for others … we are called to do the same. Jesus teaches us that the greatest of all the commandments is the law of love … love for God and love for those around us.
We have an obligation to use our God-given skills and resources, and make straight the path for others as they journey towards the Kingdom of God.
We have an obligation to point the way … as John did … to Jesus.
We are called to share Jesus’ story in all things … word and deed, prayer and action … and thereby draw others into our journey towards God’s Kingdom.
John the Baptist calls us to walk alongside one another … to build paths for each other … whilst, all the time, allowing Christ to increase.
Our repentance … yours and mine … our prayer … our study of the Scriptures … our participation in the sacraments … the use of our gifts in service and evangelism … all of these are vital to the preparation needed in anticipation of the coming of God’s Kingdom.
As we prepare for Christmas we should heed the two-fold call of John:
- first, to repent and turn to Jesus with all that we are;
- and, secondly, to begin living in a way that reflects our love for others.
John the Baptist spent his entire life preparing for the coming of another … we are called to do no less.
Advent invites us to look at our lives and ask: Have I dug deep enough, or am I merely skimming the surface?
John the Baptist is preaching to us from the pages of Holy Scripture … he is urging us to dig deeper and deeper.
As Advent continues, let us do just that … let us dig deeper and deeper into ourselves that we might make the path straight for others.
Let us turn from those paths that are not of God.
Let us open our hearts and our souls, and let us give our lives to gently loving others so that they may come to do the same.