And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:80, ESV
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3, NIV
Who is the owner of “a voice” calling out to prepare for the coming of the Lord?
No, we’re not talking about 007 in our Advent reflection today. James Bond might well be a man with many missions in life – all of which he carries out with sophistication and style for Queen and country – but he was never born to carry out the mission of supreme importance: forerunner to the Messiah. That was reserved for someone tougher, humbler and already empowered in the womb!
He was the baby who caused his elderly father, Zechariah, to be mute because of disbelief when an angel announced his coming – until he was circumcised and named John. (Luke 1:64) He was also the baby who leaped in his mother’s womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, walked into the room and greeted Elizabeth. Luke (1:41)
John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth (Luke 1:15) and, at an early age, was put into the rough dryness of the wilderness, so symbolic of sinful humanity devoid of the Spirit, where he stayed until he began his public ministry. He never wavered.
Zechariah had prophesied, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins …” (Luke 1:76-77)
John’s mission was so important that he was prepared for it in an extraordinary, rigorous manner, living frugally for a long time in the desert, learning from ascetics, wearing “clothes… made of camel’s hair, … a leather belt around his waist” eating “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4) abstaining from wine and strong drink. His appearance was a statement in itself.
Preaching repentance, John determinedly addressed the suffering of the human heart, lost in the wilderness of sin and reflected in the dryness of the desert sand. He called the people to turn away from wrongdoing and injustice, to confess their sins and be baptised in readiness. The Messiah was coming who would restore the joy of living through forgiveness and bring water into the desert as they turned their hearts to God; this would lead them to the “highway … called the Way of Holiness; … for those who walk on that Way.” (Isaiah 35:8)
This Advent, John’s call comes to us, too.
We can prepare for Jesus’ coming by repenting, confessing and making right with others. We need cleansing from the sin that destroys us and keeps us in the dry wilderness of despair. As we do so the Lord will make a way in the desert, water our dry spirits and tame the wild animals. He will quench our thirst and free our hearts.
Prayer: Holy Father, we need the replenishing of your life-giving Spirit in our lives to be ready to look with fresh eyes at the miracle of Jesus’ coming that can, and will, make all things new. Amen.