John the Baptist’s words and works resonate even today! Preparing the way for Jesus in the world and in your heart is a labor of love that NEVER ends!
During the Christmas season we read the birth narrative of Jesus. We get a short account of the time his parents have to search for him, and find him conversing with the Temple scholars, and we are told of John the Baptist’s mission to “prepare the way for the Lord.”
The first time we hear of John is when Mary visits her older cousin, Elizabeth, and that at the sound of Mary’s voice, the infant John, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Of course, we have no scriptural evidence of the boyhood relationship between John and Jesus, but we can imagine that they were close, that they would have grown up seeing one another on family occasions, as is common with cousins. We can imagine that they talked, and as they got older, those conversations must have grown more and more reflective. We can imagine them talking about God with ever deeper intensity as they grew older. This would not have been unusual as John’s father was a priest in the Temple, and Mary and Joseph were deeply steeped in prayer and the scriptures, and they were holy in every way.
Zechariah, John’s father, had been struck dumb for doubting the angel’s word to him while he was serving in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, that he and his wife would have a child in their old age. He had not been able to speak for a long time. At John’s circumcision ceremony, their friends and neighbors asked if the child would be named Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No his name is John.” They were all surprised because there was no one in Zechariah’s family who had that name. Zechariah asked for a piece of paper and wrote, “His name is John.” At that moment he began to speak, praising God. Everyone was filled with awe and all began to ask, “What is this child going to be?”
Zechariah then begins to prophesy about the Messiah and his son’s role in announcing that the Lord has finally come to his people. He begins, “Let us praise the Lord, the God of Israel! He has come to the help of his people and has set them free. He has provided for us a Savior, a descendant of his servant David.” Then, about his son, John: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High God. You will go ahead of the Lord to prepare his road for him, to tell his people that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven.” (Luke 1:57-80)
John grew and became that final prophet of the Lord, living in the desert. The word of God came to John in the desert and John began preaching his message of baptism for the forgiveness of their sins throughout the region of the Jordan River, He used the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Someone is shouting in the desert; ‘Get the road ready for the Lord…All mankind will see God’s salvation!” (Luke 3:4-6)
John the Baptist gave his whole will and energy to the effort to tell the people to prepare themselves to meet the One promised from the time of Abraham. He told the people of God that the long-awaited promise of their salvation had finally come.
John’s call to the people out there in the desert along the Jordan River still echoes through the two thousand years since that time. Today that voice is shouting in the desert of our own hearts, telling each one of us, right here, right now, “Prepare a way for the Lord” in your own heart. Your salvation is present. The Lord has become one of us, and one with us, by entering the very heart of human history. But because God is God, He not only entered history, but He wishes to enter into the intimate space of each of our own hearts, right here and right now.
Prepare a way for the Lord to enter your heart then. Rise each morning hearing John’s voice crying out in the desert of your own heart. Bend your knees and your will to welcome Jesus into your heart every morning. Make of your own heart a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit so that you might become a prophet, like John, for the people in your daily life. By uniting your will to God’s will, you will be invited into the mystery of God’s infinite love and you will become an instrument for that love in your daily world. Thanks be to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of infinite mercy who has freed us from the darkness of sin and called us into the light of his Kingdom. Amen!