“The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:2) This is how Luke introduces the adult John the Baptist to us. Luke, alone among the Gospel writers, identifies John with the prophets of old whose ministries all began with a call from God. In Luke we see John as more than a prophet, he is also the precursor to Jesus. He is the hinge upon which the Old Testament opens to the New Testament. He inaugurates the period of the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah from of old.
John is a towering figure in the New Testament. Though he is only there briefly, we see in him a man possessed of a faith that could not be denied, that would not be silenced, even in the presence of threats to his life. The first we hear of him is when Mary, the cousin of Elizabeth hears that Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age. Mary, also pregnant with Jesus, goes to visit Elizabeth and to help her. At Mary’s greeting Elizabeth tells us, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the sound of your greeting the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (verses 43-44) From the beginning, we see John’s special relationship with Jesus. He is destined to be that voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepar[ing] the way of the Lord, mak[ing] straight his paths.” (Luke 3:4)
John, a man of profound faith would hear the call of the Lord in that wilderness, a wilderness not just of space and time, but a wilderness made vast by the totality of mankind’s sins. He would begin to prepare the way of the Lord by preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was preparing a way for the Lord, for Jesus, the Son of God, to fulfill the ancient promise of that forgiveness, in space and time, once and for all.
That message of repentance for sins is still alive and well in our own times. We who are so often lost in the wilderness of our sins, must open the ears of our hearts to hear that call that echoes over the long length of history to our very selves. We must repent our sins, our personal sins, in order to receive the forgiveness that God offers us at all times. When we hear that cry in the wilderness of our hearts and respond to it, we are then called on to be that cry for repentance to others. This is what real love is all about. In this Advent time before Christmas, let us take time out, away from the busyness of life, away from the shopping and all the false material demands that this time of year is often overwhelmed by, to hear that voice calling us to repentance. Let us spend time in the desert of silence and solitude with Jesus. Let us turn our hearts to him and receive his forgiveness with humble and contrite hearts.
Jesus, we come to you broken and wearied by our sins. We desire to repent of them and to have the cleansing waters of your forgiveness wash over us. Let us hear your words of forgiveness and peace in the depths of our hearts so that we may prepare ourselves to celebrate your birth with true joy. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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