John the Baptist makes his appearance each Second Sunday of Advent with the message to prepare our hearts and make straight our paths for the coming of the Lord.
The people were excited by John’s preaching and baptizing at the Jordan for they recognized him as Elijah come again, which was the sign the Messiah would soon make his appearance. People responded to John’s call for baptism and were encouraged by the promise that One greater than John would baptize them with the Holy Spirit.
For us, of course, that has happened already. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, ready to counsel us and defend us and give us the words we need, all as Jesus promised at the Last Supper. All we need do is ask and then submit to the Spirit’s guidance in our lives.
Yet, John’s message, especially as prophesied by Isaiah in today’s first reading, is still pertinent to our lives. In order to see the Lord more clearly, we need to make straight our paths. The valleys that need to be filled in are those places we can fall into that cause us to struggle to find a way out. Temptations or even sins such as selfishness, self-pity or fear provide moments in very dark and gloomy valleys. The mountains that need to be laid low are the more major areas of sinfulness with which we struggle: anger, greed, hatred, laziness, lust, and pride. John’s call to repent of our sins, to change our lives, to head in another direction, is not once and for all, but is a constant need for all of us who desire to grow in holiness.
Not matter how far we have fallen or how high the obstacles that keep us from God, Isaiah reminds us in the first reading that God is like a shepherd for us and will do whatever is needed to keep us safe and well fed. All we need do is listen for God’s voice, follow the Lord’s call, and trust in God’s mercy and love.
The second letter of Peter reminds us that God is patient and that too is an assurance for us. We don’t need to do everything at once. We ought not to rush because that will only end in failure and discouragement. Our striving for holiness is a life-long journey.
We would be wise to ask the Lord for the two virtues that John the Baptist had: humility and perseverance. John knew that it was all about Jesus, not himself, and John persevered in doing what he knew God called him to do each and every day of his life. He was willing to prepare and wait patiently for years in the desert. He then preached and baptized tirelessly when God called him to do that. And he gladly decreased, so that Christ might increase. Most importantly, he was faithful to the truth right up to the end, even when it cost him his head in prison.
The message of Advent and Christmas is that we are loved and God desires to come to us. And so we work at making our paths straight so that we can see the Lord more clearly. When we see, may we respond with humility and great gratitude, ever more ready to follow Jesus wherever He leads.