“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'” From the Gospel of St. Matthew.
St. Matthew here quotes from the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 40. Verses 3 – 5 are these:
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The voice that cries out is a messenger of God, an angel of the Lord. St. Matthew loved to quote the Old Testament Scripture as a way to lend authority to his Gospel. As you know, the first chapter is devoted to the genealogy of Jesus showing him as a descendant of Abraham, down the line through King David, and finally to Joseph who was betrothed to Mary.
Matthew quoted Isaiah near the end of the chapter when he wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet (Isaiah): “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us.”
John the Baptist appeared on the scene when Jesus was an adult at the beginning of his public ministry, so why do we hear from him today during Advent? John’s message fits with the Advent theme of preparation. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
John is the last prophet of the Law of Moses, warning us that the Lord is coming. Wake up and straighten out! Why is the Law important to us? St. John Chrysostom said, “You don’t know how to repent unless you know that you are off the mark.” Sin is thinking your are doing good, but you are off the mark. The Law helps up evaluate our lives.
Sometimes it’s hard to know that we are off the mark. Despite our good intentions, we still fall into sin. We might not even know we have sinned. When I had cancer, I did not have a clue. I did’t feel any different. There were no symptoms whatsoever. My doctor was giving me a physical, and decided to check my thyroid gland. As she pushed and probed, she began to say, “Hmm. I think we should have this checked.” She had found a tiny nodule about a centimeter in diameter. Later, a biopsy would show it to be malignant and eventually it would have to be removed. I had no idea I was sick! I had gotten to the doctor just in time.
I have talked to many people who don’t know they are sick. The cancer that infects them is sin. They don’t feel sick, but perhaps they are unhappy. They might even tell me they don’t sin, and that is more common than you might think. I had that type of sickness, too. I did not realize how much sin had infected me until it was almost too late. I went to the Great Physician just in time. The diagnosis was simple, but my pride had kept me from seeing it.
We humans are quick to see the warning signs of things or people around us, but very slow to see them in ourselves. We don’t see the symptoms of our fallen nature or our self-destructive habits. We long for things that are bad for us as if they were good. Sometimes we seek death as if it were freedom. Our ways have become crooked and dangerous.
It is the Lord who calls to us to straighten our paths toward Him. He calls out to us in our wilderness of discontent, piercing through the darkness in our souls. He offers us Life and Peace in a world that values death and conflict. He offers us the Grace and Consolation of the Holy Spirit to guide us into His Truth.
In order to receive that gift we must clear out the clutter that stands in its way. The number one thing that works to block his grace is fear. The world seems to peddle fear every day. That fear sucks us in and makes us hungry for good news, but just feeds us with more bad. With all that noise it’s easy to think it’s all bad news.
Ultimately, we may fear that we will never be good enough to accepted by God, so why even try. It’s just easier to live our lives oblivious to the pain around us, with a faint hope that God might have mercy on us. It’s tempting to think, “Am I being punished?”
The Good News is that when you accept Jesus into your heart, there is no more punishment. Focus on the Cross, where Christ received the punishment we deserve.
The Cross is an icon of our salvation. Look upon it and be thankful.
John the Baptist’s message breaks through the noise again. The voice cries out, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!” Jesus is coming! Open the doors and sweep out the dust. Clear the path. Remove the rubble. Be prepared to receive the King of kings into your heart. Amen.