By Sr. Kathleen Holland, OSF
As we continue our Advent journey, we are introduced to the one who will point the way to the Messiah. Luke begins the Gospel for the second week of Advent with the historical framework for the mission of John the Baptist. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas — these were the political and religious leaders of the time. Yet, the word of God did not come through one of them; but instead, to a man named John, one whom folks would not have expected to be a prophet!
Long before John, prophets like Isaiah and Baruch were preparing the chosen people for the coming of the long expected one. Now, John was urgent with his message as he called the people to a baptism of repentance — a ritual washing symbolizing their commitment to change the direction of their lives. Valleys were to be filled in, mountains and hills laid low, winding ways straightened and rough roads made smooth. John challenged each person to prepare his/her own heart to receive the saving power of God.
Today, we, too, are being called to repentance and are challenged to open ourselves to further conversion. What are the mountains and valleys that keep us from being attuned to the word of God coming to us through today’s prophets? Perhaps we are comfortable to be on the mountaintop of privilege and possessions. We might not even recognize that we are consuming a great deal more than our share of the earth’s resources. Even if we listened to the words of Pope Francis as he spoke to Congress and to us, if we have read Laudato Si, we still might believe that we are entitled to our possessions or feel helpless to do anything to relieve the plight of those who are poor or marginalized.
On the other hand, we might find ourselves in the valleys of loss or pain. We may feel unjustly accused or ignored. We may be so taken up with our own needs that we are unable to recognize and appreciate the daily blessings and gifts that are ours to share with others. How will our mountains be made low and our valleys filled in, so that we can hear and act upon the word of God coming to us, especially during this Advent season?
John was called to the desert, to a place without distractions where he could hear God’s word. During Advent, we are called to make time in our lives to be quiet and prayerful so that we can face honestly our own mountains and valleys that hinder our relationship with God, one another and all creation. We are also called to be prophets of Christ, who announce by our words and actions the coming of the Lord, just as John did.
In this year of 2015, when Francis is pope, Barack Obama is president of the United States, Terry Branstad is governor of Iowa and Martin Amos is the bishop of Davenport, how are we called to “prepare a way for the Lord” in our lives? How are we being called to respond to the challenges of today’s world? What role must each of us play in caring for our earth, in welcoming the stranger, in replacing violence with love? We can only know this in the depth of our own hearts as we take time to listen to God in prayer, read the signs of the times and respond accordingly. Jesus is always there, ready to come into our lives, but we must be ready to receive him.
(Sr. Holland is an academic operations specialist at Ashford University in Clinton.)