Johns’ message was plain and simple. Unlike many of today’s great orators and politicians who claim large audiences, he did not promise a better and easier life, neither did he speak of wealth, affluence or easy money. Rather, his was a simple instruction: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”.
This is the message the Church presents to us, as we begin our second week of Advent. Prepare the way of the Lord. In John’s time many people were expecting the coming of the Messiah, the one promised many years before. Now, it seemed that the time had come. The long-awaited Saviour was coming, and people were being urged by John to prepare for him the way. Many heeded John’s invitation. They had a good look at their lives, they recognized weaknesses and mistakes, and they went into the water confessing their sins, openly expressing their desire for a better life.
Some, however, came just for the show, or not to be left out. The Pharisees and Sadducees, Matthew tells us in his gospel, also came to receive John’s baptism. Two very different groups who were at odds on so many issues! And yet, here they were together, and John did not miss the opportunity. This was not meant to be a spectacle. Unless people really desired a moral change in their lives, there was no point of coming to him. Rather than a spiritual experience, these people were making a mockery out of it. John knew that there was not a gram of repentance in their lives. Both groups were so sure of themselves, that both believed they were righteous. John, who was never short of harsh words, called them “brood of vipers” and assured them that they had no chance of escaping God’s wrath!
In the midst of all this John makes one of the most beautiful promises. He tells his people that he is baptizing them with water, a symbol of their repentance and their desire of a better life. Soon there was to come another one, obviously referring to Jesus, who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Both John and the people around him knew that, no matter how strong their desire of conversion is, they cannot do it on their own. The Holy Spirit, who will be gifted to the people by Jesus, will make this possible. It is the same Spirit envisioned by Isaiah in our first reading - a Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and counsel which will help the people discern what is truly right in their lives. A Spirit of might who will give them the strength necessary to live the desired conversion.
This is the Spirit you and I have received in our baptism. As we prepare ourselves for Christmas, let us, too prepare the way for the Lord to really come into our lives. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to show us what needs to be changed or improved in our lives, and to give us the strength to do it.