A Way Out of the Wilderness
Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent
Preached on December 3-4, 2011 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY and Saint Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY
Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
We see them marching up and down crowded sidewalks or stationed at the corner of a busy intersection. They are often screaming out the message scribbled on their placards: “Repent! The end is near.” These doomsday prophets prefer to preach in such places that are packed with people. It is the best way for them to present their message to as wide an audience as possible; it is the most practical manner to press as many sinners towards the path of salvation.
It comes as a surprise then that “John the Baptist appeared in the desert [to proclaim] a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin” (Mk. 1:4). The desert is not the place to announce any news that is meant to reach a whole nation. For one, the desert is, as anyone would expect, deserted. There are no crowds milling around, no multitudes waiting for a prophet to appear from the distant dunes. Yet, the evangelist Mark tells us that the “people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him” (Mk. 1:5). It seems that everyone had left the greener side of the fence to listen to this “voice crying out in the desert” (Mk. 1:3). John must have had some very good news to tell for folks to start flocking to the wilderness.
But, perhaps, the evangelist here is describing not where the Baptist had come from but where he had gone to. “John the Baptist appeared in the desert” (Mk. 1:4), right where the people were. Sometimes we forget that everything east of Eden is a wasteland and that the grass is greener on the other side of eternity’s fence. John had come into this wasteland of a world to tell us of a way out of here, that there is a highway of the Lord that takes us from the howling desert to the verdant pastures of the Good Shepherd. He had come to assure us that God does not want to leave any of us out to dry in this desert.
John came to this desert not to proclaim a message of doom, not to warn us that the end is near. He came instead to preach a message of hope, to call us to a new beginning, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” (Mk. 1:1). This is the glad tidings heralded by John, the good news proclaimed by the Baptist: the end of sin is near and the beginning of grace is here. “The Lord does not delay His promise” (2 Pt. 3:9); rather, He gives us every possible opportunity to get our act together before we hitch His ride out of this wilderness. And, the first step to getting ready, so both the street preacher and the desert prophet tell us, is to repent: to leave our wild ways in this wilderness, to cease wasting our lives in this wasteland, and to keep to the straight and narrow path that leads to our God’s embrace.