5 December 2021 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL
Baruch 5, 1-9 + Psalm 126 + Philippians 1, 4-5, 8-11 + Luke 3, 1-6
We can’t go any further into Advent without the presence and the voice of that man whose voice cried out in the wilderness. His voice is heard at a time when Rome held all the power, when Rome’s foot was on Israel’s neck. In that list of the powerful Luke includes two whose names might make us shudder because of the violence and deaths they will cause. Herod and Pilot are the names that in these opening verses give us a reminder of what is to come, because we know the end of the story. None the less, John’s voice comes like a trumpet blast out of the wilderness right into time, into history, right into reality. His voice proclaims that God is coming, and that God not only came in the past, and is not only to come in the future, but that God comes now into every moment in every age. Never mind the power of Herod and Pilot, never mind the power of that great Roman Legion, a greater one is coming.
Having begun with a list of rulers who could not bring salvation, wholeness, and peace. John announces the coming of one who can and who will bring salvation, wholeness and peace. Just because their power and their numbers overwhelmed the people of Israel, that absence of all-out war was far from real peace.
If we listen very carefully, John is not so much announcing someone as he proclaiming something. He proclaims that salvation has come, and it is for salvation that all people must prepare, and the way to prepare for Salvation is repentance and conversion. He proclaims that healing will come, but the healer must be recognized and people must come to him. He proclaims a season of peace, and it is a peace that can only come from reconciliation and love.
John is in the desert, not in Jerusalem where his father, a priest, Zechariah, would be found. John is in that place where Israel crossed over from wilderness of sin to the promise of God’s faithfulness. He calls for another Passover. Like the desert days of old Israel, John calls for repentance, for conversion, inviting those who listen to experience what he has experienced, the freedom of knowing that God is about to do something great with them.
That message is proclaimed today in this place to each of us. God is about to do something great, greater than ever before. To experience that and for God to find us, we must come out of the desert to meet the Lamb of God. There must be about us a constant spirit of change, of growth, of repentance. Acknowledging our sin, accepting the truth of our weakness and failures, we can become what God has called us to be through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to be a passive mob of bystanders watching from the sidelines as the world spins past. We are called by John, by grace, by Jesus, by the Holy Spirit to be the spark that changes this world, the fuel of a real “metanoia” as the first language of the Gospel describes it. Metanoia means: “Beyond (meta) the mind (noia). In other words, the change, the metanoia expected of us is far more than an intellectual affair. It is an experience of letting ourselves be lured beyond what we know, beyond our small thinking and any notion that things will just always be this way. They will either get worse, or they will get better because we have done something about it. Metanoia is a new vision of life in which we live with joy every day, secure in the knowledge that God is with us, that Christ as come, and that Christ will come again.
So, as that great leader and teacher of the church, Benedict, once said: “While there is still time, we must hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.”