December 9, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The evangelist Luke situates the call of John the Baptist within history. So his audience might know John the Baptist was a real person with a concrete role in salvation history, Luke places the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Lord in relation to the leaders of government and religion at the time. There is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Ceasar, worshipped as God, and there are his underlings who promote his power: Pilate and Herod, Philip and Lysanias. There are the high priests ruling from the temple in Jerusalem, Annas and his son-in-law Caiphas.
But Luke not only situates the call of the Baptist within the pages of history but also makes a strong point about where the Word of God is spoken and where it is received. Not in gleaming palaces or temples, not in places of power, but to a guy living in the desert, far from the center of the universe, far from the noise of the wealthy and the powerful.
The word of God, the call of God, comes to a nobody, who has no wealth nor power nor standing in his world. He alone hears what God has to say, that the Messiah is near, that the Promised One is now present, and that he, John, must prepare a people blinded by their sins to see him. That he, John, must prepare a people whose hearts have become deaf to the voice of God to hear the Living Word of God who is near.
John calls us as well to repentance so we might see the coming Son of God in our lives. He invites us to enter into the desert of silence in order to hear the Word made Flesh.
In the midst of the cacophony of Christmas preparations, the Church gifts us with Advent and the prophet of Advent, John the Baptist preaching from the desert. In the midst of the secular noise of consumerism and materialism, the Church blesses us with John the Baptist who invites us to enter into silence. He challenges us to remember that SILENCE is the LANGUAGE of GOD! In the desert there is no cell reception, no Wi-Fi, no 24 hour news cycle. In the desert, there is no constant background noise of the TV chattering all the time. In the desert there is silence, and in that silence we can more readily hear the word of God.
We can create our own “desert spaces” during the clamor of these days that we might be able to hear what God wants to say to us. We have to create our own “desert spaces” with a daily time for prayer, which includes opening up our Bibles every day and listening to what God has to say. We can do this by reading the Gospel reading for daily Mass listed in the bulletin or find the daily readings on the U.S. bishops’ website. We can listen during Advent by reading each day a chapter in the Gospel of Luke, which is the Gospel for this Liturgical Year, and the Gospel particularly for Christmas. A mother and father can help each other out by one watching the kids while the other retreats for 10-15 minutes of silence to listen to the word of God. Or for single parents and some other parents, it may mean rising early before the kids awake or entering into a “desert space” after they are asleep. Even driving too and from work can be a time to turn off the radio and podcasts and talk to the Lord as if he were riding co-pilot, for he truly is.
Many people today, particularly the younger generation, have not been taught the importance of silence in order to pay attention to what God wants to say to them. What are young people taught to do today: to scan and browse, to quickly consume digital technology and then scurry along to the next flashy thing. It’s never-ending noise, even if one uses only one’s eyes to consume.
If you scroll down a Twitter feed, the feed of messages goes on and on, endlessly. The way to survive or even thrive in an environment like this is to gobble up information and gobble up more information as it keeps coming and coming. In this information age where we are inundated by words through all sorts of non-stop media, but what is missing is discerning what is of value. To discern what is of value, we have to be nourished by a daily desert time, by silence in the presence of the Lord who comes to us through his Word, and as the Living Word.
By this practice of a daily desert time, we develop a Biblical imagination. Listening daily to the Word of God helps us welcome Him in our daily life and persevere in the race of faith. What does developing a Biblical imagination look like? It’s not about memorizing verses in the Bible but becoming familiar with the stories of how God has acted in the past so we can see how God is acting now.
Look at how the Virgin Mary’s listening is shaped and formed by sacred memory, by the way she recalls God’s actions in the past. As Mary ponders the news of the Archangel Gabriel that she will be the Mother of the Son of God, as she wrestles with how this can be, she is given a sign by Gabriel. Her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who is sterile and way beyond the age of childbearing, is in the 6th month of her pregnancy, for nothing is impossible with God.
When Mary hears this news from the Archangel Gabriel, she immediately hears “Sarah.” Mary is transported into the past and how God blessed Sarah, Abraham’s wife, with a child when Sarah was too old to bear a child.
The God who was doing the impossible way back then in Sarah’s life is even now working in Elizabeth’s life, and now this faithful God wants to do what seems impossible in Mary’s life. Like Sarah, Mary is being invited to step out in trust. To say “Yes.” Because she remembers the great things the Lord God has done in the past, she can trust that God can and will do the impossible here and now through her, if she but surrenders in trust.
When we rest in silence each day, we are able to remember the great things the Lord has done for us and surrender our lives in trust to Him and His mission for us. As we enter the desert for a short time each day, we hear more clearly how we are being called like John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord, so He might come to others through us.
John the Baptist, the prophet of Advent, visits us today and will do so next Sunday as well, challenging us to prepare the way for the coming of the Word made flesh!
As we are nourished by the Living Word of God at this altar, he takes our flesh, so others might experience the presence of God and the love of God in our lives.