Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; II Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
When I hear today’s Gospel, I recall the majesty of the opening of Handel’s Messiah. The religious imagery of Handel’s era was positive and uplifting, full of light and hope girded with optimism.
But hope and optimism are two very different things, hope engaging realities while optimism remains a coping mechanism. Lacking optimism may not be all that bad: should we persevere into hope, we’re beyond Pollyanna’s fictions.
It seems to me that John the Baptist has radical hope. Think of his situation. We read in Mark’s Gospel that Herod like to listen to him, though he found him disturbing, though he’d give the order to execute him. Would the throngs who came to hear the Baptist do any different were they disappointed? There may be many people with him but John’s alone in the crowd; he genuinely is a voice of one crying out in the desert. That’s a very lonely place to be.
When he describes the one coming after him, he’s describing a man who will replace him. I can’t tell whether he’s matter-of-fact or happy, but he’s not complaining about that! He’s looking forward to having no future. We monks and nuns, don’t we all worry today that we will have no future? Yet what God wants to happen next is the only important thing to John. Isn’t that radical hope?
Such hope demands that you and I be alert to those strange people, like John the Baptist, who alone can shake us out of our routine to recognize Christ arriving in our midst, disturbing our expectations. He pulls us our of our insulated selves.
But I am also invited into that lonely emptiness, that transparency, that I might reveal God-with-us to someone else. Aren’t I asked not to reduce God’s will to my vanity project? Aren’t I asked to trust God enough to get out of his way even when God would work through me?