[...T]he word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. He came into all the region around the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for remission of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord.
Make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled.
Every mountain and hill will be brought low.
The crooked will become straight,
and the rough ways smooth.
All flesh will see God’s salvation.’”
St. John the Baptizer is usually considered the last of the Old Testament prophets. The last half of the reading for the third Advent Ember Day is basically his mission statement: He was to prepare the way for his Cousin, the Jewish Messiah.
If you're reading this, you probably know the Gospels. It didn't work out the way anyone hoped, including Jesus. I feel confident that when Mary, Elizabeth, Zacharias, and John prophesied, they had no idea how much Death would play a part in the Father's plan. Jesus did, but He didn't like it any more than they.
Jesus' first coming ended very differently than anyone thought. For 2,000 yeas, Christians have been yearning for Christ's second coming. The Apostle's thought they would see the Day, and every generation since has thought they were living in the Last Days.
Despite the 'clear' prophecies of Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets, very few Jews actually recognized their Messiah. I wonder if, despite our own understandings of Revelation and other prophecies, if we are not very much in the same boat.
Christ will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end. But the details are vague.
So we live, as all of Christian history has lived, in anticipation and longing. Our goal, very much like St. John's, is to prepare the way for this coming Kingdom, to "make ready the way of the Lord." This is the Theme of Peace that we experienced the Sunday before last. Peace, contrary to what our world would have us believe, comes not through the absence of conflict but through Preparation for God's work.
The first place to do this is, as John said, in our own hearts and lives. The reality for Christians today is that the Kingdom already lives in us. Do we reflect it? Do we love our neighbour second only to God? Do we let our own idols and legalisms and 'standards' get in the way of bringing the Kingdom to earth? Have we forgotten that Christ's Kingdom is one of holiness? I look at the state of the Church and wonder, is this what the Kingdom of God looks like?
Then I look at myself, and I'm sure it is not.
So we've returned again to the theme of Repentance. It is, after all, a secondary Theme of Advent and a primary Theme of these Ember Days. As I reflect on even the past 24 hours, I know I'm filled with dozens of sins I need to repent of before the Kingdom is bourne out in me.
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, come quickly!