“Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Luke 3:5 quoting Isaiah
When preparing for a big event—like Christmas—a helpful approach is deciding on your goal, fixing it in your mind, then figuring out a plan to get there. How can we fill every valley and make low every mountain and hill? That, my partner in prayer, is the work of Advent.
If renewal is our goal, then today’s Gospel provides some useful guidance. At the time of Christ’s birth, Luke recounts the imperial reign of Tiberius Caesar and his underlings, men who ruled with iron fists. So you can imagine yourself as an ordinary person of the day asking, “How much longer can this go on?” Take a step forward and doesn’t that all sound familiar? We worry about violence, racism, poverty, and divisions over a vaccine that seems to be tearing us apart. Like someone living in the age of Tiberius, we might ask the same question: “How much longer can this go on?” Something has to give. But what?
Israel had hoped for drastic change as promised by Isaiah and the prophets—most likely a political change. Luke reminds us that John the Baptist took a different approach. He offered the waters of baptism for a personal renewal—renewal of heart and soul. We know this because the original meaning of “baptism” as recorded in Luke’s Gospel actually means, “receiving a new kind of mind, a new way of thinking.”
Renewal through forgiveness is John the Baptist’s message to the world. He deftly used the symbolism of water to make his point, something the Jews of his day would have understood. They remembered well the difficult crossing of the Red Sea and the River Jordan into the Promised Land. Interesting that even now, just weeks before Christmas, we hear the language of Exodus. Today’s Gospel is saying that we deal with the “winding roads” of life through repentance and forgiveness—through the healing waters of baptism.
Friend, renewal is surely the goal of Advent—our personal exodus from darkness into the light of Christ. So how will you be renewed? How will you respond to the things God is asking of you even amidst the turmoil of life? Here’s my suggestion: Think back to your own baptism and your call to mission. Then spend some time with today’s readings, believing that your faith has given you all the strength you need to be renewed in God’s image. In case you’re wondering, that’s my plan, too.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Father Lance Nadeau, M.M.