Third Sunday in Advent

Deacon Blaine Barclay

December 17, 2017

John the Baptist is quite the character, he is both the last of the old testament prophets, and the first evangelist of the joyful good news of Jesus the Christ. Even in the womb, he leaps for joy when he recognizes the presence of Jesus in the greeting of Mary.  Right after his birth it is said of him, ’And you my child shall be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way….  To announce the tender compassion of our God.’  Later in life Jesus would say of John. ’No greater has ever been born than John the Baptist.’ Yet John says of Jesus, ’I am not worthy to undo the thong of his sandal’; and ’Behold the Lamb of God’.

John is the forerunner, the inaugurator, preaching a message of repentance.  John is the prototype, the model of a disciple, he points the way to the Way.  He himself is not the way.  The essence of John the Baptist is, ’He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John knows who he is not.  He is not Elijah, or, the prophet.  He is not the Messiah.  He is not the light.  Rather, ’He came as a witness to testify to the light.’

Likewise, you are not the way, I am not the way; Jesus is the Way.  The essence of discipleship is, ’He must increase, I must decrease’. We are not the light, like John, we are called to ’witness, to testify to the light.’ We are not Elijah, or, the prophet, but we are called to be ’the prophetic voice’.  After John told them over and over again who he was not, they asked, ’who are you? ….’’He said,’ I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.’

Often, just before I proclaim the gospel, I say a silent prayer.’ When they hear my poor words, let them hear your living voice’. A voice is more than just words, glibly spoken or a dead thing on a page.  A voice as a living thing, stamped with the personal witness and testimony of the one who speaks.  The ‘prophetic voice’ speaks of and for the other, it bears witness, and testifies to this other who is both present and on the way.  The prophetic voice speaks this living word into the here and now of our broken and fragmented lives. It cries out, thick with the labour and pain of the wilderness. ’The voice of one crying in the wilderness.’ This is John’s voice.  This is our voice.

The voice that was John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness of Judea.  A dry, and desolate place, with little food, and less water.  No wonder he hung around the Jordan River, and lived on a diet of locusts and wild honey.  This is a man who had been purified and disciplined by the desert, reduced down to a voice, crying out. ’Make straight the way of the Lord.’

The scriptures are filled with wilderness stories, with desert narratives.  Abraham and Sarah are nomads, sojourners, desert wanderers.  Wilderness is the place of their encounter with God.  It is in desert that Moses encounters the burning bush and receives his reluctant prophetic call.  In the Exodus, the people of Israel wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  Many of the prophet’s encounter God in the wilderness.  After his baptism Jesus retreats into the desert where he is tempted by the evil one.  Throughout his public ministry Jesus often goes out to a lonely place to pray, withdraws to the wilderness, the place of encounter with God.

What role does the wilderness, the lonely place, the desert, the experience of solitude play in our lives?  On the one hand, we may already feel alone, isolated, lonely, withdrawn, even in the middle of a busy life.  We may feel the need for re-collection, for space.  In this case, perhaps the desert experience is meant to awaken our thirst for God, for meaning, for wholeness.  On the other hand, each one of us, each in our own way, are called to make room for God in the Inn of our lives.  To carve out tiny moments of encounter, of solitude, desert, wilderness, the lonely place to pray.  It may be in the shower, because that is the only space we can get, or getting up earlier than everyone else in the house, or staying up late, or curling up with some good spiritual reading, or dropping in for a visit at church, just to say hello to Jesus in the tabernacle.  It may be joining a bible study, or some other program of spiritual formation, occasional daily mass, or, that long avoided retreat experience, or just a simple walk along the shore.  What is essential is to intentionally cultivate such moments or times apart.  We are all called to them, we all need these moments or sustained times of solitude, of encounter.  Without them it is all too easy to lose our joy, to be off-centered, dis-located. To lose our voice of witness, of testimony.

In joyful response to the still small voice uncovered in solitude, in listening prayer; let us endeavor to find our true voice. The voice that only God can give us. ’The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.’