It begins in a sun-parched land. Far away from our snowy scenes of Christmas, the rugged prophet John makes a world-changing announcement: Prepare the way of the Lord.
Under the brutal thumb of the Roman Empire, John has lived his desert days hoping for a miracle: the arrival of the Messiah foretold in his people’s scriptures (what Christians now call the Old Testament). He has been waiting for the one who will upend the political realities of his day and usher in the era of God’s Kingdom. He has been waiting for a truth-teller to care about the lowly and disenfranchised. He has been waiting for a savior to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” bring “good news to the poor,” and “comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61).
John has been waiting, in short, for God to do something — to look down on God’s people with mercy and justice and act.
But what God does is more than a quick-fix miracle. God — the maker of all there is, the one who brought forth the world in creation — comes into the story of humanity. God comes as one human person: Jesus of Nazareth. Born to an ordinary young woman, God in Jesus walks beside us, taking on creaturely flesh. God, in other words, incarnates and experiences as we do the pangs and joys of what it means to be human.
Far away from our snowy scenes of Christmas, the rugged prophet John makes a world-changing announcement: Prepare the way of the Lord.
In Jesus, therefore, a more powerful messenger has arrived, and John has lived to see it. John cries out that Jesus’s arrival portends a whole new reality, unseen since the dawn of all things. A new creation has sprung forth. The mountains of human anguish are made low, the spiritual dryness in the human heart dissolves to streams in the desert, and the baptismal waters of forgiveness flow. The world can verdantly rejoice with the news of God’s coming.
“Make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” John proclaims. Because this is not just good news. It is the good news — the news of Jesus Christ, God among us.
Here are more ways to find God among us.
The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, sings choral anthem “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.”
Over at Mockingbird, a media ministry focused on “the various places where Christian truth is bearing out in everyday life,” guest contributor Nathan Carr reminds us how the weakness of John the Baptist can actually teach us about hope in seemingly hopeless times.
Theology professor Joseph Mangina encourages us to “abandon our doomscrolling in favor of a proper Christian hope,” writing, “Advent gives us permission to notice the darkness without giving in to it.”
From the National Gallery in London, a beautiful video series on representations of John the Baptist in art.
And a wonderful, and rare, depiction of the legend of John the Baptist meeting up with Jesus as children during the Holy Family’s return from Egypt.
Poet and priest Malcolm Guite’s “The Visitation” reminds us of the two women who bore Jesus and John the Baptist, Mary and Elizabeth, as women who “turned eternity to time.”