The readings this weekend are so filled with both hopeful and challenging words that they definitely warrant a second look if you have some quiet time today or tomorrow. The prophecy from Isaiah speaks beautifully about the peace and unity that the messiah will bring when he comes – the wolf & the lamb, the calf & the lion, the cow & the bear, and even the baby & the cobra will live in harmony. These profound images capture the peace among all creation that existed before The Fall, before Adam & Eve’s Original Sin introduced disorder and chaos into the world. This is the peace that our Heavenly Father originally intended for us. This is the peace that the Messiah brings. But… he also brings judgment upon anyone who introduces further division and disunity.
Today, the Second Sunday of Advent, the Church puts before us the figure of St. John the Baptist, the Saint of Advent, to herald the Messiah. Sometimes I get fixated on his camel hair shirt and his eating of locusts and forget his deep significance. Thankfully, we have this season of Advent to take seriously again John’s message. What does it mean to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”? Why does John say that he is “not worthy to carry his sandals”? We can see much in John the Baptist’s mission and his words that can be helpful for us as we prepare for the coming of the Lord.
First, did you notice the lead up to John the Baptist in the readings beforehand? This buildup, from our first reading in Isaiah, to the Responsorial Psalm, to the Letter to the Romans, culminates in the Gospel as St. John the Baptist bursts onto the scene. We get the feeling that John’s meaning in life, his vocation, was prepared for him since the times of the great Old Testament Prophets. John’s life’s mission is to prepare the way of the Lord, Jesus Christ, to till the soil of men’s hearts to be able to receive the seeds of peace and unity that he brings.
The Prophet Isaiah described “a voice of one crying out in the dessert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John prepares for the Lord by fervently preaching to all of the people to acknowledge their sins before God and to symbolize their repentance by being washed in the Jordan River. By being repentant, we return to God what belongs to Him, our Love. Repentance also helps us to behave correctly, to usher in, ourselves, the Lord’s peace and unity. Our second reading encourages us to “think in harmony with one another,” and to “welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you.” We cannot experience the peace Isaiah prophesied, the peace of the Garden of Eden before the Fall, if there is division among us.
We can each look at our own families and friends and find examples of this division: One family member hates another one, or one won’t speak to the other, or one side of the family is estranged from the rest. In my own situation, I had an aunt and uncle, who with their two sons, I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Over Thanksgiving I was at a different aunt and uncle’s house with one whole side of my family and everyone was having a great time. They were all talking and playing so that no one noticed the doorbell ring. I decided to answer the door and… there they were! I’m sure they thought they rang the wrong house when they saw a priest answer the door. And I didn’t put two and two together myself! But when it finally clicked, I invited them in and everyone was so happy to see them. One of my uncles sat down with my aunt and explained to her who everyone in the room was, reminding her of their spouses and children. It was a beautiful moment. And all it took was for one of my aunts to invite them to come to the meal… from Kansas!. This type of invitation and reunion is what should characterize this season and our own efforts. This is no time for division among our families.
When we look at John the Baptist’s noble vocation, let’s not think that he is merely an isolated figure stuck in history two thousand years ago. We too are John the Baptist. It seems like John is too special for us to relate too. But, God has prepared from all eternity our own unique way of bringing about repentance and reunion with God and with each other as well.
Just stop and think about that for a second. From all eternity, before time began, God planned your personal, individual, vocation – “vocation” comes from the Latin, vocare, meaning “to call” – your calling; your reason for being. Do you know what yours is? What God has prepared for you before the world began? Our entire lives as Catholics are ones of waiting for the Lord, looking toward Him, and preparing for His coming by establishing peace and unity in the unique way God wills for us.
John said in the Gospel, “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals… I am baptizing you with water for repentance… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John knew that his ministry was never about him, never about how good of a preacher he was to have been able to draw people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region to him in the waters of the Jordan River. The point is, we cannot be heralds of peace and reunion ourselves if we are filled with pride and division. We must repent and grow in humility.
For John, it was only all about Jesus, who John describes as mighty, like a king. The lowest most insignificant servant of a king was the one who had the often dirty job of loosening and carrying the king’s sandals and caring for his feet. But John, in his great humility would not even dare to carry the Lord’s sandals. This is how John shows us how to live out our unique calling with profound humility. Even Christ’s mission is mightier than John’s, for John’s baptism “with water” merely symbolized repentance from sin, but Jesus’ Baptism “with the Holy Spirit” [and water] actually effects what it symbolizes.
Finally, despite these vivid examples, the most striking one of John’s humility is one that I know I’ve read over hundreds of times before without catching it. St. Matthew simply describes John as a “voice.” He is simply “A voice of one crying out in the desert”. John is just a voice. He was so humble before the message of God that he became the message, the voice, of God the Father.
Today, as we remember St. John the Baptist, with the help of his prayers we too can go forth and speak this message of repentance to our coworkers, our friends, and our relatives to build unity where there is division. From the heart of our own God-given vocation, with great humility, we too can not only speak but become the message, the Eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ. And we will always point to Him rather than ourselves. “May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun his name shall remain.” As it is written: “Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name” O Lord.
 In Conversation with God, Volume One, p. 59, by Fr. Francis Fernandez