In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Today’s Gospel is one of those with hard-to-pronounce names of people and titles and cities. It’s one of the ones where you can’t help but root for the reader as he proclaims it, as he meets and jumps over every verbose potential obstacle, all the ‘tetrarchs’ and ‘Lysanias’ and ‘Ituraea’ and other words we don’t normally say, let alone pronounce in front of a crowd. Our celebrant did a great job, but I was left wondering just how it is that these bits of information made it into the form of the Gospel that we hear and read today. How is it relevant to us in these modern times? Why do we need to know these details?
And it occurs to me that the details place the extraordinary events surrounding the birth of Jesus into an actual historical context. If you were a reporter, you could get all you needed for your story from the text of these few verses. When did it happen? In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Where? Galilee, where Herod was tetrarch. What happened? John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance. Why? Because Someone was coming, Someone who would change everything and so the paths needed to be made straight.
This historical context helps us to remember and know that the second coming of Jesus will also happen in time. Like, there will be a date on the calendar and rulers in office, and people will be living their everyday lives and it will actually happen.
I am kind of excited about it. It’s funny, last week the celebrant asked the congregation whether we’d want to witness the actual coming of Christ and to those who raised their hands, he laughed and said, ‘be careful what you wish for’. But I look around and I see how broken this world is, how our leaders call evil good and good evil, how the Church itself has become a home for depravity, and I think, Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. We are in dire need of rescue.
I’ve been re-reading a book from one of the Medjugorje visionaries, Mirjana Soldo. My Heart Will Triumph tells the story of how she and five other children in the tiny village of Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia started to receive visits from Mary the Mother of God in the 1980s, and the effect that has had on her life, and all about what Mary wants us to know. There’s a lot there, and it makes my heart quicken to think of Mirjana’s experience, of why Mary would come here to Earth, of her goal and purpose in doing so. It’s to prepare us and to save us. The trailer for the documentary ‘Apparition Hill’ begins with the startling premise that Medjugorje is either the biggest miracle since Jesus walked the Earth, or the biggest hoax in the history of mankind. That’s a big statement to be sure, but if it’s the former, the events surrounding Medjugorje are something we should probably know and understand more than we do.
So as we enter Advent a bit deeper and we wonder at what it means to ‘prepare the way’ or to ‘make our paths straight’, maybe it helps us to know that we’re preparing for something. Or better said, Someone. It’s a blessed, grace-filled time to do the work, time to stand straight and raise our heads. There’s a new light coming into the world. Let’s look up together.
Note: My Heart Will Triumph is free on your kindle device and the beautiful documentary, ‘Apparition Hill’ is streaming on Amazon, xfinity, iTunes, Google, and more. Give yourself the gift of watching and reading this Advent.