There are two significant challenges we can face while travelling by road. One is not knowing the right road that should lead us to our destination and the other is being confronted by a bad roadway. In fact, roadways are indispensable as far as human and vehicular movements are concerned. More so, we are always attracted to good roadways. Most people in some deplorable areas in the world can attest to the pains they experience navigating through bad roadways. Often such roadways are filled with gullies, trenches and potholes (if you like death-holes). Good roadway is one of the most needful amenities that a government can provide for her citizens because it enhances other forms of development especially the economy.
Much as we desire good roadways and enjoy them, we are today called upon to undertake a spiritual roadway construction which will be more beneficial than the roadways we use in our day-to-day life situations. Today we encounter An exceptionally skilled spiritual roadway engineer, namely John the Baptist. The New Testament prophet appears with an extremely important project; the task of constructing a formidable roadway which will serve as dependable capacitor for the coming of the Messiah.
John the Baptist is convinced of the necessity of this roadway construction given the prophecies of his predecessors like that of Prophet Baruch (5:1-9) in the First Reading today. The recommendations are the same: “filling of the valleys, levelling of the mountains and hills, and smoothening of the rough paths and edges”. Three important facts are of great importance in our reflection today: the person of the messenger (the chief roadway engineer), his message (the roadway construction) and our anticipated responsible response!
- The Messenger: John the Baptist could have been a very unusual person. In fact everything about him was unusual. He was born of very old parents; his father was dumb until the time he was to be named. He lived in the desert, his wardrobe consisted only of animal skin, and his diet included only locust and honey (what a menu). His death was also unusual as his head was served on a plate as a weird gift to a little-girl-dancer after entertaining some guests at a banquet. I really don’t think that John the Baptist had time for merriment and that is most unusual. Furthermore, John the Baptist is among the few in the bible whose births were foretold by God through some spiritual encounters; another unusual attribute he shares with Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and Jesus Christ.
- Message:Like others in this category, he came with and for a specific mission. In this wise, he came not only to announce the coming of the messiah but also to prepare people for his coming. To do this, he called for a construction and renovation exercise not on a physical space but within the inner spiritual spaces of the people.
It is worth nothing that the voice of John was heard CRYING in the wilderness (desert place). Why wilderness and why the lament? Wilderness is basically not a fun place to be and it cannot be a rendezvous of enjoyment. The wilderness is actually a dry, lonely, dangerous and uninhabited place. It is a place of suffering. We could recall that in their journey to the Promised Land the people of Israel had to pass through the wilderness where they experienced hunger, thirst and even death. The psalmist described the wilderness as a dry weary land without water (Ps. 63:1; 143:6).
The voice cries and laments in the wilderness for those who are in the wilderness (not outside the wilderness). It is in this context that we see wilderness here as pointing not just to a geographical wasteland, but more poignantly, the region of sin. Hence John was crying out in the wilderness for those who are held down by wilderness per se. For those who are engulfed by sin, those who are lost, those who are walking in the shadow of death. He came to show them how to gain their liberation. When John decided to take habitation in the wilderness, he was going to confront the obstacle and to let people know the way out; he went to identify with and assist sinners. The temptation of Jesus Christ after his baptism took place in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-4). Wilderness is indeed a Place of great disconnection from God as well as a place of victory over Satan and sin.
Now in this wilderness people are required to prepare a way for God by: filling up the valleys, levelling every mountain and hill, straightening winding ways and making rough edges smooth. Filling up the valley entails replacing lost values and virtues that have made us empty before God. Levelling the mountains and hills entails removing all those obstacles hindering us from reaching to God. These are obstacles created by our pride and wayward lives. Straightening the winding ways entails living upright lives. Making smooth the rough edges and paths entails humility and obedience to the word of God.
- Our Response to the Message
What we have above are very important and necessary spiritual steps that will lead us to a new life in God. In fact, we are called to conversion. The lament of John and indeed the message of the advent period is that of conversion. We either get converted or risk being convicted. The question is: “how responsive are we to the message of Advent?”
When we look around in our cities what do we see? Commercially motivated Christmas lights, Christmas trees, melodious Christmas songs and all the colours of the Christmas season. The world seems to be in a hurry for the saviour to be born, but few are attentive to the fact that a room should be prepared for him. People all over the world want to celebrate Christmas but few are ready to observe the advent. Paramount in observing advent is the need for us to know that we are in a wilderness and we ought to come out from it; hence the need for conversion, the need to construct the roadway through which the messiah will reach us.
Reading the very end of the prophecy of Baruch from the First Reading, I see a picture of a well-constructed roadway. A road that is illuminated by powerful and beautiful lights, a road that is guarded completely leaving no room for fear of being hurt. Yes the glory of God will overwhelm and guide those who have successfully completed their roadway construction which is namely in our hearts.
Do have an enriching experience as you construct your own roadway for the saviour this season.
Happy Sunday and more blessings in the coming days as we light the second candle of advent!