“Console my people, console them. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended.”
Isaiah’s unforgettable words were addressed to a generation ravaged by national oblivion and exile. Jerusalem, together with the Temple that had symbolised God’s presence, lay in ruins. At a time when there was little to hope for God had spoken to the precarious remnant of Israel’s faith. “Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill laid low.”
At the beginning of Advent we should not hesitate to acknowledge the inner wilderness that can, at times, seem to take us far from God. The wilderness is sometimes of our own making. We can devote so much time and energy to the superficial that we gradually become insensitive to God’s presence. While an aching dissatisfaction calls us back to God, our barren hearts seem unable to respond.
This, surely, was the wilderness addressed by the prophet Isaiah. His promise of salvation heralded a God who comes to meet us where we feel most abandoned and alone. He makes a highway through the obstacles that we have placed in his way, raises us from the depths that threaten to engulf the struggling spirit. This is Advent’s hope. “Here is your God. Here is the Lord coming with power. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast.”
John the Baptist, appearing in the wilderness, proclaimed the fulfilment of this promise. We are told that Judea and all the peoples of Jerusalem abandoned the security of their homes and flocked to the wilderness to hear his message. They were clearly dissatisfied with their lives and longed for something more. Unnerving though it may be, let us find the time during Advent to review our lives. In prayer let us ask if we are truly satisfied with everything that fills our daily lives. Do we sometimes hide from the unresolved sinfulness that stands in God’s path? If, like those inhabitants of Jerusalem, we discover an unfulfilled longing then we, like them, must face our wilderness. We must be willing to enter that wilderness, confident that it is here that a loving God chooses to meet us.
The hope that John proclaimed went further than the repentance that sets us free from past sin. “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
Even when we have honestly acknowledged our own sinfulness, we sometimes feel powerless to live the faith and love for which we long. Here, John the Baptist pointed the crowds to the coming Messiah, the one who would baptise them with the Holy Spirit. During Advent we pray that the same Holy Spirit, already entrusted to us in baptism and confirmation,
might be renewed in our hearts. The Spirit, at work within us, prepares the way for the Lord.
St Peter’s second letter speaks of Christ’s coming as “a new heaven and a new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home.” He invites us to prepare for that coming with unstained lives, with an inner peace that binds us to God and each other. In prayer we invite the Holy Spirit to make of us a new creation, to stir our hearts with confident expectation, to cry out “Come, Lord, Jesus, come!”