A Voice Cries Out: Prepare His Way
A reflection by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
In this Sunday’s passage from Luke’s Gospel (3:1-6), St. John the Baptist features prominently, proclaiming a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The sacred author reminds us of the words of the prophet Isaiah which he uses to identify John as “a voice crying out in the desert: prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist is an enigmatic figure in the Gospel. He is the meeting point between the Old and New Testaments, preparing the way of the Lord as his forerunner and then introducing the world to him. He is an ascetic Jewish prophet – Jesus referred to him as the “greatest prophet” (Matthew 11:11), indeed the last of the Old Testament prophets. His greatness derived most importantly because God chose him for a singular purpose in the Scriptures.
Jesus and John first “met” each other in the wombs of Mary and her kinswoman Elizabeth when John “leapt for joy” (Luke 1:41) at the encounter. Although they are relatives, we are not sure if they ever met again before the Baptism in the Jordan some 30years later. Even then it is not clear that John “knew” or recognized him, at least not until the Holy Spirit descended upon him on the river’s bank and the Father’s voice was heard. John was the “messenger” of whom Isaiah spoke eight centuries earlier, a role he himself described in John’s Gospel (1:23). Jesus was the “message,” the Good News, the Messiah in whom God was “well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22) as John baptized him. And we are not certain if John and Jesus ever met up with each other again.
These words stand out as we continue our Gospel journey through Advent: “voice” and “prepare.” Voices are meant to be heard. For us as Christians, God’s word is a “voice” meant to be heard. Old Testament prophecies are the Word of God, his voice spoken almost 3,000 years ago, “preparing” the world to meet and welcome the Messiah. It is chock full of anticipation, of expectation, of hope. The One long promised is the One who would come. “Prepare his way.”
The New Testament reveals the Word of God, his voice spoken 2,000 years ago “preparing” the world to greet and follow the One who has come, the One who “from the first day until now,” as today’s second reading from the Letter to the Philippians reminds the world, “began a good work in you and will continue to complete it.”
Yes, a “voice,” God’s voice, is meant to be heard “in the wilderness” as well as in the city streets; in homes and within the family; in the workplaces, schools and in neighborhoods; in houses of worship and in the communities that fill and surround them. If we acknowledge and know that a “voice,” God’s voice, is meant to be heard, then we must be “prepared” to listen for it, to listen to it, to act on it. When Mary heard God’s voice in the voice of the Angel Gabriel, she listened and said yes, “let it be done to me as you say.” That is something for us to think about this Advent.