Second Sunday of Advent | Year C
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, Lysenias tetrarch 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;
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.
There were powerful men ruling the land when John emerged calling upon the people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. The people flocked to John, which must have both puzzled and alarmed the powerful. What gave an unkempt nobody from the wilderness such pulling power?
John was most likely a magnetic personality. But it was his message that was profoundly attractive to the crowds. They were used to the self-serving imposition of laws by the scribes and Pharisees. John told them to share their food and possessions with others, not to practise extortion, and let the tax collectors know that they should not collect more than was prescribed. It was a different morality to that of the powerful people and those such as soldiers and tax collectors whose positions gave them the opportunity to exploit others. In effect John was telling the people to look after one another whereas they were used to an “every one for themselves” approach.
At the heart of John’s preaching was the call to repent and be baptised. When wrong has been done, it can be difficult to leave it behind. The act of repenting and being baptised by John acted as a marker between the previous morality and a new life. It was also a public act of commitment to a new way of life.
The multiple layers of John’s preaching were threaded through with a message of hope. He was announcing the coming of the longed-for Messiah, and calling the people to prepare for this event. For the ordinary people whose lives were not easy this hope changed their mood and their future.
John’s voice extends into our time calling us to prepare for the annual celebration of the coming of the Lord. His message is the same for us as it was for the people of his time – look after one another, live moral lives, and if you have power exercise it for the good of others. Sort out your soul, not just presents and food, as preparation for the great feast of the Incarnation.
This is a time to let the hope in John’s message percolate through our lives, a reminder that the Lord can make all things new. Believing in John’s message as a message for us as well as the people of his time will ensure we prepare well for Christmas.