This reflection was first published on agapaostore.com
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;he will prepare your way.A voice of one crying out in the desert:“Prepare the way of the Lord,make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.
At first it may sound like this prophecy from Isaiah is referring to John the Baptist only, and his unique mission to prepare the world for Christ. But these words can just as easily be applied to our mission as baptized Christians to prepare the world for Christ’s second coming. Christ tells us to go forth and proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, to be his messengers, and to be his witnesses. What is even more striking and humbling is the implication that we are to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming. How do we do that? Share Christ’s teaching, tell people that he is the only way to heaven. Lead by example by living holy lives. By doing these things, we help pave a way for others for whom we set an example. Without Christians setting an example about how to live a good and holy life, the way is lost. So let’s pave the way for Christ with lives of virtue.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Jesus is not just the preferred way. He is the only Way. Many people may wonder about this teaching. How can Jesus be the only way to heaven? It’s really not that far-fetched of a concept. These days we can’t imagine it being hard to figure out how to get anywhere since we have GPS, airplanes, and highways. But it wasn’t always that way. For most of history, most places had only one main road that took you there. If you were going to a village in the woods, you had to take the only road that went there. The spiritual world is much more complex than that, with temptations pulling us in every possible direction. Not only that, but going off the path is not an option unless you want your soul to be put in jeopardy. Evil spirits prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls, and wait for you to stray off the Way like a lion stalking its prey. John the Baptist and Jesus tell us to stay on the Way not only because it is the only way to heaven, but also because we immediately put our souls in serious danger when we leave it.
People were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
Advent usually is not considered a penitential season, especially if we are going to Christmas parties, shopping for presents and decorating our house. Lent already covers penance, right? Advent should have a different theme, we may think. But what better way to prepare for the coming of our Lord? He humbled himself by becoming human on Christmas. Shouldn’t we humble ourselves as well then by acknowledging our sins as we prepare for his arrival? Penance is the proper disposition when it comes to preparing to receive the Lord.The faithful are still to this day called to fast for at least an hour before receiving the Eucharist. In the Middle Ages, Catholics commonly fasted from meat on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays during Advent as they meditated on the mystery of the Incarnation. John the Baptist fasted as he proclaimed that Christ was coming. Scripture says, “John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey.” Fasting is a form of penance because, by denying ourselves of such a basic need as food, we are reminded of how all we need is God, and how we were foolish to turn to something other than him when we sinned. So consider doing some form of fasting or other penance this Advent season.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I’m not sure if this is intentional, but I find it convenient that John the Baptist mentions Jesus’ sandals. Throughout both John and Jesus’ ministries, they walked all around the desert proclaiming the Good News. John was barefoot as he practiced his own form of penance. Jesus’ sandals could symbolize the call to follow him, and the holiness of his way. By saying, “I am not worthy …” John is essentially saying, as essential as his task is, it pales in comparison to Christ’s task. John’s task was to simply prepare the way. Jesus’ task is to be the Way. Hence, John says, “I must decrease and he must increase.”
Lord Incarnate, as I prepare my heart for you to enter, I am open to new life just as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were open to Gods’ plan. Every day this Advent, I promise to be ready for you, ready to do your will, ready to sacrifice, ready to love and receive your love. Come, Emmanuel, and make your dwelling in my soul. Abide in me. I will abide in you. I praise you for coming down to us. Teach me to follow the Way so I may arrive to meet you in heaven one day just as you arrived to meet us here on earth.
The stars that guided the Magi did not speak, but they guided the way to Christ. Listening to God’s will often works the same way. Sometimes we search for some conspicuous sign of God’s will that would indicate which way he wants us to go. All the while he has given us lights to guide the way, like Scripture, Tradition, the Church, and the lives of the saints. How is the Lord guiding you along the Way today?