When I was a student at college I became fascinated with the 19th century NE transcendentalists: Emerson, Holmes, Channing, Parker, Thoreau and their attempts to build a utopia. Soon I learned that utopias are many and varied and ultimately they fail. There is a difference between them and the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah dreamed of a utopia expressed so beautifully in today’s reading but his was different. His ultimately would come true. Not because of him, but because his dream was inspired by God and in God’s own time it would be fulfilled not by a new theory but by God’s plan.
Enter John the Baptizer, preaching at the Jordan River. What was the fascination of Jews of his day for this odd man from the desert? Many reasons: but certainly the desert and the Jordan River, each in its own way, carried a deep meaning for his contemporaries. Remember the Chosen People called by God spent forty years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. Israel is a child of the desert from which God delivered them. The Jordan River was where the great prophet, Elijah, struck the water and divided the river, where Elisha, his successor received a double portion of the gift of prophecy. All prophets but John, above all John, is teaching something new, something different. And so Jerusalem became fascinated hoping that his promises would bring them some kind of a utopia.
And so they came. In droves! Many heeded his cry and were washed in the river as a sign of their desire to start anew, become better persons, change their worlds. Some came who just were curious. It was the thing to do, to bring your friends, have an outing, become entertained. For either group there were two surprises. First he himself said he was not the answer. He was simply the herald, the precursor for another. Second he told them that, if they were serious, they had to prepare themselves by repentance. Turning away from sin, seeking to prepare their hearts to be washed clean internally as John dipped them into the waters of the Jordan.
It was not a human utopia they were being called to embrace but a person who would transform their lives. Hear how John describes him: the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!
And as Jesus came walking across the desert, John sees him and cries out: Behold here he is! Here is the Lamb of God. Here is the one who takes away the sins of the world!
Every Advent we re-live that moment in our hearts at the Eucharist of the Second Advent Sunday. The scene is still real before our eyes. The drama is still gripping as we contemplate the motley crowd with all their hodge-podge of reasons for being there, many good, some not so good, many excited, others looking for a thrill, But the one constant is the one who comes walking toward them: the Lamb of God who inaugurates his mission by being baptized by John, who is confirmed in his mission by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father from above: Behold my beloved Son in whom I well pleased. Listen to him.
That, my friends, was meant for that crowd gathered at the Jordan that day. Even more is it meant for you and me who have come here from our homes or you gathered by your TV listening to today’s Gospel. We are that crowd. Many of us, almost all of us come here today to worship God as his chosen people, as the holy ones redeemed by that Lamb of God who takes away our sins. Some of us may be indifferent. Others may not care but Jesus still comes to us today. He walks into our hearts and shows us what John has promised has come true.
Remember that crowd had many reasons to come out to the Jordan. And those who were the less than openhearted John named: Pharisees, the new elitist who thought themselves perfect, Sadducees who lived by the letter of the law, scribes who could dream up tasks for other people to fulfill. Are we very different than they? To them as well as to all of us Jesus is walking, his heart filled with love for us all, expressing his desire that we accept him, and all of us asking him to forgive us our sins and him guide us along the right path. His love is there to transform our lives as we prepare to celebrate what he already has done: become one with us by being born of Mary, joining his divine life to our poor human condition so that a little child, born in a manger, may became in time the Savior of the world.
May I ask you to keep this drama in your thoughts and prayers this week? May it stir your hearts as you prepare for Christmas. As the Body of Christ, we are a mixture just like that crowd but we are a crowd with a difference. We are already joined as one in the One who comes to save us. John points to him as the source of our hope and the guarantor of our life. And that he is! He is the utopia that comes true because he is the true Son of God. We belong to Him! May we let him give us what he alone can give, a true utopia : the Kingdom of God alive in our life as Church. As Paul says: May the God of endurance grant you to think in harmony with one another…Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you for the Glory of God! If we make that part of our preparation for Christmas, then on Christmas Day in keeping with Jesus, the new born Son of Mary, we will with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!