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PREPARE IN THE DESERT THE WAY OF THE LORD
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 08, 2013
Isa. 11:1-10, Ps. 71, Rom. 15:4-9, Matt. 3:1-12


"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Matt. 3:3 KJV).


John the Baptist is preparing the way of the Lord in the desert. He is "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Matt. 3:3 KJV). John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah about the voice that will cry out in the desert. He was the precursor of the Messiah, the last of the prophets, sent to point him out when he came, and he did so in the desert; and all came to him to confess their sins and receive forgiveness by being baptized by him in the Jordan. In this way they would be prepared to receive their Messiah when he came. "John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4).


This was the preparation that God himself made for his own coming into the world, and so during Advent we learn from John how to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10). Although we already live in the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we nonetheless pray, "Thy kingdom come," because we yearn for a deeper coming of the kingdom of God in our heart. And so we prepare ourselves for its coming, especially during Advent, and we try through our word and example to prepare our world as well to receive the kingdom of God.


As the whole people went out to John to confess their sins and receive forgiveness through his baptism, we too need forgiveness for our sins by the saving death of Jesus Christ on the cross so that our hearts might be properly prepared and our conscience clean, pure, and radiant with the love of God to receive our Lord and his kingdom that is coming.


So we prepare ourselves, following John the Baptist in the desert. He was a desert dweller from his youth. "And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Luke 1:80). He was already in the desert when God called him to preach, for "the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness" (Luke 3:2).


What was John doing in the desert before he began to preach? He was living a solitary life with God, far from the world and its noise, distraction, attraction, and pleasures, a life alone with God, a life of prayer and fasting. "His food was locusts and wild honey" (Matt. 3:4). And he "wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist" (Matt. 3:4). He was dressed as an ascetic and a prophet, a man of God, like Elijah, who also "wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins" (2 Kings 1:8). As a desert dweller, John sought God in solitude and silence. Thus did he prepare himself for the coming of the Lord, seeking all his delight in the Lord, renouncing the food and pleasures of the world.


Since antiquity the Desert Fathers, hermits, and monks have consciously tried to imitate the life of John in the desert, preparing the way of the Lord far from the world and its noise and pleasures, seeking all their delight in him.


This is how John prepared himself for the Lord's coming. And when God saw that he was ready, he called him to be his prophet, to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:1). And so he began his mission of baptizing the people for the forgiveness of their sins.


We too should follow the example of John, preparing the way of the Lord in the desert, living a simple life, renouncing the pleasures of the world, seeking all our delight in the Lord. We especially do this during Advent, but it is also good to do this all the time, all year long, like John, and like monks who have lived this way throughout history, basing themselves on the example of John. We need to purify every aspect of our life, following John's example in the desert.


So let us be this voice crying in the desert, preparing ourselves and inviting everyone to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord and his kingdom. Let us be "the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isa. 40:3-5 KJV).


More than anyone else, those who dwell in the desert for the love of God will see this glory, for it will be manifested there. So let us prepare ourselves, as did John, for the coming of the Lord, and for the coming of the kingdom of God in the world, so that we may see its manifestation in the joy of our heart. Especially during Advent do we long to see and experience this glory in our heart; and so we imitate the way that God himself prepared for his own coming, that is, we imitate John, preparing in the desert the way of the Lord.


In Jesus Christ "all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God" (Ps. 97:3 NKJV). We believe in Christ not only to see, but also to receive and experience this salvation in our heart. And to receive it more deeply we follow John in the desert, especially during Advent, eating simply--locusts and wild honey--and living a simple life, alone with God in prayer and contemplation.


We receive God's salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ, for his merits on the cross paid our debt of punishment due for our sins and cleanse us from all sin and from the pain and sadness of guilt, when we confess our sins. As all Judea went out to John, confessing their sins, so do we go out, not to receive the baptism of John in the Jordan, but Christ's sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23) that frees us from the sadness of guilt for our sins and justifies us before God, channeling personally to us the merits of Christ's death on the cross. The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Christ (Isa. 53:5), and this frees us from the darkness so that we might see and experience the manifestation of the glory of the Lord in our heart (Isa. 40:5).


Now is the time of the kingdom of God. "Among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matt. 11:11). So let us prepare ourselves now for a richer and deeper coming of the kingdom of God, as John did, by living a simple life in the desert for the love of God.

 

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