Advent calls us to conversion, a change to our ways of thinking and acting. There are too many valleys of despair that need to be filled in our lives and in our world. There are too many mountains and hills of pride that need to be made low. Along the way we find winding roads of confusion that need straightening and rough and violent ways that must be made smooth. This is still our broken and tired world and it still needs rejuvenation.
In our day and age, we are surrounded by a host of would-be prophets who raise their voices in the newspapers, in the press, and on social media. All of them are proclaiming to have some special gift for discerning the truth and some exclusive right to proclaim it. They know exactly how to spot “fake-news” or to pontificate about what is wrong with this country or with the world or with the Church.
And every one of them claims to know how precisely to cure any and all of its ills. Many of them are pretentious, egotistical, crude and intolerant, especially of those who disagree with them. These are sure signs that they are not prophets at all.
The true prophet vividly and faithfully portrays the people’s present condition and offers hope. Isaiah promised a time of justice, faithfulness, and peace. God makes a promise to the besieged people of Israel. Even if the tree of David is cut down to a stump, a shoot shall spring from it. This root of Jesse will become a signal to the nations.
John the Baptist calls out to us in whatever dry, discouraged, fearful, angry desert we find ourselves. He directs our attention to the approaching reign of God. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he announces. John calls for a change of heart and a turning away from our former ways and a turning towards the Christ we find in others.
In the middle of the babble of false prophets, the prophetic message of the Gospel will not be drowned out. It is proclaimed quietly but strongly by the faith-filled men and women whose values stand in direct contrast to those of the world. We live in the wilderness of isolation that has no center and is not a home for us. We must confront the beasts in our wilderness: beasts of aggression, war, competition, greed, and the lust for still more property and power. We must be a sign that another way of living is possible where there are no hills, mountains, valleys, or crooked roads to separate us from each other.
Perhaps we still walk along crooked paths. We might find it much easier to take detours around the Gospel challenges of Christian justice. There are still hills of conflict and valleys of depression on the road we walk. There always will be. And that's OK.
It is more important that we welcome the Advent promises of Isaiah and the Baptist. It is important that we see in those promises a reason to hope for a deepening of our own faith and love, for the power to overcome evil in ourselves and in our world, for the healing of hatred, the banishment of fear and for peace and justice. These challenging, prophetic voices echo across the centuries to be proclaimed as our own.
Change of heart is an ongoing process and God indeed comes to set things in right order.