Second Advent: The Word of God Came to John
Today’s Gospel begins with a solemn introduction. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip had a similar job, and so also some guy named Lysanius, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas...” something momentous is about to happen. You would think that this was the announcement of the birth of Jesus. But it isn’t. Yet the event that is announced is earthshaking. The event is this: The Word of the Lord came to John the Baptist. And then John went proclaiming a baptism of repentance and calling people to prepare the way of the Lord.
What St. Luke is saying is that at a specific time and place, God intervened in human history. He did it by inspiring John the Baptist to proclaim his presence. How did he convince John to do this? Was there a bolt of lightning, a vision in sky, a miraculous event? Or did John simply respond to the voice within him telling him to go into action? I would think that scripture would have noted some sort of marvel. I also think that scripture is telling us here, as in many other places, that God often works his wonders in whispers.
John the Baptist may very well have been a member of the Qumran Community. This was a group of hermits who lived in the desert, studied scripture and longed for the Messiah. We learned about this community the middle of the last century when a child shepherd came upon a cave filled with ancient pottery in which he found the Dead Sea Scrolls. The way the John dressed, his desire for a change in the world are in line with the teaching of Qumran. But the hermits of Qumran, stayed within their community. If John had been one of them, he had
to have made the decision to set off by himself to proclaim the message he heard so silently, yet so clearly in his life.
Because John listened to that voice, the stage was set for the entrance of the Messiah.
Sometimes God gives us a whack on the head to get us into action. We might have a heart attack or be diagnosed with cancer and realize that we have to do more of his work while we still have time. Yes, sometimes he gives us a whack, but not most of the time. Most of the time, God’s Word comes to us in a quiet way, in a gentle inspiration to reach out to bring his love to others.
We might notice that someone is having a bad day, so we stop by to cheer him or her up. We give a call to someone who is hurting. We stop by a hospital. We offer a smile and a wink to a child. Little things. Perhaps, they might seem to hardly have any weight in the world, but the Word of the Lord can work marvelous changes when it is allowed into someone’s life. The person having a bad day feels love and starts seeing his or her day in perspective. The call to someone who is hurting results in that person realizing that he or she is not alone, that God is with him or her. The sick person in the hospital sees his visitor in a new light and thanks God for this. The frightened child is strengthened by a wink.
The Word of the Lord comes to each of us, daily. We are share the mission of John to prepare the way for the Lord. We are a significant part of the process, even if our particular action might seem trivial.
John proclaimed the Word of God because he listened. We also have to listen. Now, during the busiest season of the year, when we all have so many things to do to prepare for Christmas, now more than ever, we have to slow ourselves down, perhaps even stop ourselves for fifteen minutes and listen.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells the Philippians, and us, “This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more.”
Faith is about the integration of the spiritual and the physical. The little deeds of our lives, the little acts of charity we might perform, become great actions of the spiritual.
What we need to do is pray. Pray that we might listen when the Word of God comes to us. And pray that we might respond to the Word of God by going into action as Christians. Jesus Christ is coming again. Like John the Baptist the Word of God comes often to us so that we might prepare the Way of the Lord.