Jesus desires to enter into our hearts, our very lives now, today.
“I will send you, Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day” (Mal. 3:23). This reading is included in those read in the lead-up to Christmas this year from the book of morning prayer that I use each day. The prophets had prophesied the Messiah for hundreds of years before the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is just one of those prophecies. It has a clear connection to the events and people surrounding the coming of Jesus into the world, not the least of which is John, the Baptist.
John’s father, Zechariah, declared his joy at the coming of the Messiah, at his newborn son’s blessing ceremony in the temple, saying of him, “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the most high; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77). John would be confronted by some Pharisees when he was preaching in the desert. They asked him who he was. Was he the Messiah, or Elijah, or a prophet? His answer was, no, but that he was simply the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord as the prophet Isaiah said” (Jn 1:23). When he says, “I am the voice” he is clearly a prophet. In Matthew 11:14 Jesus himself says, “He is Elijah the one who is to come.” John is not preaching a new religion or a new revelation. What he is preaching is the very fulfillment of what had been prophesied for centuries.
John is still prophesying to us today, telling us to prepare the way for the Lord in our lives. And how do we do that? By recognizing that the ways of our hearts are too often rutted, broken, or lost because we tend to sin, to make our personal, immediate needs greater than the ways of the Lord. Those ways are more difficult, more demanding of us, but they are the only ways to “make straight the way of the Lord” into our hearts, minds, and souls. He is preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. They can only be forgiven if we recognize them and then seek his forgiveness and the graces we need to stay on the straight path that is his way.
John’s message is not only that the Messiah is coming, but that those of us who desire to receive him must prepare the way for him by making serious changes in our own hearts and in our lives. And God’s demands on us are not always sweet to our ears. The world tells us that the good life is one of comfort and pleasure. The world tells us that life should be easy and peaceful, without suffering. It tells us this in the face of the ever-present reality of suffering, not just at the global level, but the sufferings that enter our own lives unbidden, due to the decisions and actions of others, or those that come to us as a result of our own decisions and actions. It is the recognition of this that John is prophesying. We must recognize it and then take on the hard work that is involved in turning away from those sinful habits.
Jesus did not just enter the world 2,023 years ago; he desires to enter into our own hearts, our very lives now, today. He wants us to know him, to fall in love with him, and to desire to walk with him in his way, the only way that leads to the happiness our hearts most truly desire. In this last week before our Christmas celebrations of the birth of Jesus, our Messiah, let us hear that “voice crying in the wilderness” of our hearts. Let us prepare the way for the Lord to enter into our daily lives. If we do, “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and will guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:78-79). Oh, come, O, come, Emmanuel!SKM: below-content placeholder