I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Saint John the Baptist,1600, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco
There was a movie that came out several years ago called Jingle All the Way. It featured Arnold Schwartzenegger who plays a workaholic salesman who can’t find time for his wife and son. After he misses his son’s karate class he vows to make it up by getting his son’s big Christmas wish an action figure toy called Turboman. Another father played by Sinbad wants a Turboman for his son, too, and both fathers learn that this toy is in such demand that there are none left in the stores. This sets them off on a mad race to find the one remaining toy that will be handed out at a Christmas parade. The movie reaches its climax when Arnold, dressed as Turboman for the parade, rescues his son who is being held by Sinbad, dressed as Tuboman’s arch-rival, Dementor. When Arnold’s son realizes that it was his father who was dressed as Turboman everything goes to happily-ever-after. It was not really that good of a movie. My daughter thought it was too commercial and failed to capture any Christmas spirit, and I guess that is the point. A lot of the activity at this time of year seems shallow and pointless.
This is a hectic season. So many attractions are competing for our attention. So many events are crowding our schedules. So many seasonal chores are taxing our energy. So many anxieties are draining our spirit. It is hardly any wonder that people seem disappointed, weary, depressed, and unfulfilled. Yet this is a time to keep bright thoughts and hopeful hearts and to find the joy that lifts our spirits up.
In the first reading, Isaiah is writing to people of broken spirits. The kingdom of Israel has fallen; its leaders were exiled to Babylon and have yet to return to a ruined Jerusalem. They long for the glory of the fallen kingdom. They look for the Messiah who will come to restore Israel to that glory by crushing their enemies. They are unhappy with their present state.
Isaiah proclaims the Messiah of justice who will right the wrongs of the lowly and down-trodden. The reign of this Messiah, springing from the root of Jesse will regenerate all of creation, and true peace will be established.
This is the message John is preaching to the people who are seeking renewal in their lives. John is waiting in the wilderness, “a voice crying out in the desert,” away from the distractions of a corrupt Jerusalem. He cannot be swayed by the deceits of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, and he is quick to point his finger to “the brood of vipers” whose power and greed are crushing down on the poor. Amazingly, the people are coming out to the desert to hear John. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It is not enough to say, “We have Abraham as our father.” He calls for repentance that can be seen in the bearing of good fruit. John was not known for working wonders but for strongly proclaiming the Word of God.
John knows that, “one is coming after me who is mightier.” And He is Jesus!
Whom do we listen to? Do we listen to the Word of God? Would we go out to hear “a voice crying out in the desert, [saying] prepare the way of the Lord” or do we listen to a “brood of vipers” that distracts us from the kingdom of heaven?
In this time of readying for the Advent of Christ what are we doing to prepare ourselves? Perhaps we should make or renew a pledge to sit quietly and reflect on the passages of Scripture for Advent. Perhaps we should ask ourselves when we have ignored or obstructed the kingdom of heaven and repent. Perhaps we need to show the good fruit we bear in the deeds that we do.
Father in heaven,
the day draws near when the glory of your Son
will make radiant the night of the waiting world.
May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy
which moves the hearts of those who seek him.
May the darkness not blind us to the vision of wisdom
which fills the minds of those who find him.
We ask this through Christ our lord.