The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ ”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Whenever man experiences the bites of suffering, he raises his voice to God asking Him to “show His kindness and grant salvation.” Such has always been the attitude and prayer of Israel, especially in the long period of exile and at other moments in their history when they were harassed by aggressive neighbors.
The prophet Isaiah reassured his own countrymen that their loving God was not insensitive to the cries of His repentant, suffering people. The Lord was about to “turn His face” to them in mercy and loving concern. He Himself, actually, would move toward His own people and take care of them, especially the weak and the defenseless, as a shepherd does with his flock. (See Is 40:11.)
The forgiving and consoling love of the Lord, who was going to “turn” toward His people would make them experience a rebirth after the long pangs of the Exile. But for this wonder to happen, they had to do their share – i.e., they had to “make straight in the desert a highway for their Lord” (Is 40:3).
This same proclamation was made by John the Baptist to the whole people of Israel. Fulfilling the promises of old, the Lord had turned with love toward His people and was about to manifest His mercy in the most personal way; a way that would outshine all previous manifestations.
People of all times may, occasionally, feel the Lord is “late in coming” – late in fulfilling His promise of salvation. St. Peter reminds us today in the second reading that God has not forgotten His promises, nor has He reneged on them. The implementation of His plan is “on course.”
Rather than questioning God’s “punctuality,” we should see whether something may not be lacking in our preparation for the “great encounter.” There are important things that we have to do, things that we may have neglected altogether or done in an unsatisfactory way. “God is patient with you,” explains Peter, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
On God’s part, the promise stands: the promise of “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (v.13). But for that promise to become a reality, our cooperation is essential. And that cooperation has a realistic, demanding, and even harsh name: repentance! This means that the people are to turn toward God with a repentant heart, and move to encounter Him, treading the thorny path and steep road of a sincere conversion.
This call to conversion spans the centuries and reaches us today as pertinent and demanding as ever. We, too, need God and His forgiveness. We, too, yearn to see the light of His loving countenance. And we can encounter Him and enjoy His presence only in a life of righteousness in atonement for our sins. Then “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.” Thus, the Savior and the saved shall celebrate the encounter of their converging love.