Second Sunday of Advent - C - 2018. Luke 3: 1-6.
At the heart of John the Baptist's message is the need for repentance/ a change of heart/ a broadening of horizons/ transformation of experience/ reform of life. Here we commonly use the word 'conversion'. And the promise for anyone who has the courage to make such a drastic about-face is the becoming a new person.
That is why Luke makes certain that we don't miss the essential meaning of John's baptism. 'John went about the entire region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins'.
Note also that Luke is interested in pointing out in detail the names of the characters who controlled the various spheres of political and religious power at that time. They were the ones who planned and controlled everyone and every aspect of life. However, what is of basic importance - the decisive event of Jesus of Nazareth - occurs outside those areas of influence and power, and without them knowing or deciding anything.
That is how what is essential in the world, in society and in our lives always appears. That is how God's grace and salvation entered history. The essential isn't in the hands of the powerful. Luke says simply that 'The Word of God came upon God in the desert". It didn't happen in Rome or in the sacred enclosure of the Jerusalem Temple.
The Desert: Nowhere can you and I better hear God's call to change ourselves and then change the world. The desert is the land of truth. It is the place to live out what is basic and essential.
In the desert there is no room for the superficial and the superfluous. It is not the place to hoard what is unnecessary. Luxury and ostentation are not possible. The important thing is to seek and live the right way to direct one's life.
That is why many prophets sought out the desert/ quiet places. The desert is the symbol of a simpler life more deeply rooted in the essential. In the framework of the desert, John the Baptist proclaimed 'baptism' as the mighty symbol for conversion, purification, forgiveness and the beginning of a new life'.
How do you and I respond to that call today? John sums it up in an image taken from Isaiah - 'Prepare the way of the Lord'. Those words are a reminder that our lives can be strewn with obstacles that prevent or hinder the coming of God into our hearts, communities, church and our world.
Isaiah's images also invite us to very basic and fundamental commitments: caring better for the essentials,: not being distracted by what is secondary; straightening 'crooked paths'; facing the real truth of our lives; recover a spirit of conversion.
What we all need is a baptism of conversion.