December 6, 2023 // Perspective

Heaven’s Construction Company and Paving the Way for Christ

One of my favorite characters of the Advent season is St. John the Baptist. And let’s be honest, he’s kind of a crazy figure. In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent (Mark 1:1-8), we are told that John is living in the wilderness wearing camel’s hair. If that weren’t enough, we are then told that his diet consists of the desert delicacies of locusts and wild honey. Apparently, he liked the sweet-n-salty combo!

But, what in the world is John doing out there in the first place? He’s preparing the way for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It might be easy to overlook if we have heard these readings before and are familiar with John’s role in Advent, but if we stop and think about it, John is essentially acting like heaven’s construction company. He is the one who is paving the way so that the Son of God can be revealed as a light to the nations. His role is to fill in the valleys, make low the mountains, and make the rough places straight. What’s his method? He calls for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Like a good construction company, John not only does the road work to make the way for Christ passable, he also clearly sets up road signs to keep us on track. Like a road work site that has big barricades saying, “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way,” John uses the same messaging: “REPENT!” In other words, “Turn around; you’re going the wrong way!”

In the original Greek, the word used for repentance here is metanoia. It literally means to change one’s mind or to totally change the direction of one’s life. In other words, it means to think and to act differently. This is why John is a credible witness to the call to repentance – because he clearly thought and acted differently. Instead of going about trying to fit in to first-century Israel, John knew his role as the precursor of Christ called him to be a sign of contradiction. He knew he had to stand out from the crowd if he was going to make the Messiah stand out to the rest of humanity.

In a certain sense, I think we can all learn a couple things from the example of John. First, all of us are called to ongoing repentance and conversion. The road to heaven is a long one, and there are many temptations to make us lose sight and to send us off course. John reminds us to stay focused on Jesus and our communion with Him. So, if you haven’t already, make a good confession this Advent. There’s a reason it’s called the Sacrament of Penance – because it truly is the sacrament of conversion, the sacrament of metanoia.

The other inspiration John gives us is the freedom to be a little crazy. While I’m not necessarily recommending all of us to dress in camel’s hair or to eat locusts and honey (but let me know how locusts taste if you do!), all of us who bear the name Christian are called to be a sign of contradiction, to think and act differently.

Why was it that all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the whole Judean countryside were going out to see John the Baptist? Because he was radically different. And my opinion is that it wasn’t simply to see the display of some weird clothing and diet habits. It was because John possessed a radiant joy in a desert wasteland. From his first moments in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, when he encountered Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Mother during the Visitation, we are told that John leaped for joy. I imagine that joy was an abiding presence John kept the rest of his earthly life and is what strengthened him to go before Christ, even in death.

As our world continues to go about its regular business of the various holiday preparations, be like John. Make a good confession. Don’t be afraid to be a little weird. Think and act a little different. Radiate the supernatural joy of knowing Jesus Christ. And join heaven’s construction company with a smile to prepare the way of the Lord!

Father Brian Isenbarger is a Parochial Vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Fort Wayne.

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