I lived in California’s Mojave Desert before GPS and cell phones, and I often hosted friends who were novice hikers but eager to explore the rugged area. They occasionally ventured into the wilderness without a map, ignoring my warning about its dangers. Sometimes they wandered into a box canyon—a dead end and a treacherous place with its intense heat and steep canyon walls. Hikers must quickly turn around to find a safer path.
The throngs following John the Baptist are stuck in a spiritual box canyon. Their lives have come to a dead end, and they seek a different way of living. In John’s message they recognize a path to a new beginning as he exhorts them to turn from their sins, ask for forgiveness, and have their sins washed away. But beyond this traditional rite for remission of sins, John offers something different. He prepares his followers for a prophet greater than he, who will bring them a new message and who will be the message. John prophesies that what they have been waiting for—the time when God will pour out God’s Spirit on all of Israel—is imminent. The baptism with the Holy Spirit that Jesus offers will remit past sins and empower his followers to enter into a radically new way of living that he will teach and demonstrate.
When we’re trapped in our own box canyons, the way out is to admit that we can’t save ourselves. In recognizing that our path leads nowhere, we can turn to God and seek forgiveness from God and from those we’ve hurt. We can ask the Holy Spirit to motivate us to change and empower us to grow in our love of God, others, and ourselves.
Spirit of God, we know that refusal to follow Jesus and his teaching leads us away from your life-giving path. Grant us wisdom to ask you for help. Enable us to recognize and respond to the guidance you offer. Amen.
Prepare the way of the Lord! This is the theme for the second week of Advent. Isaiah cries out from the wilderness that the people should prepare for the arrival of the Lord. This will be met with shouts of praise and rejoicing. The psalmist tells his audience to prepare the way of the Lord by living rightly, namely by showing love and faithfulness to each other. Second Peter restates that we do not know the day of the Lord’s ultimate return, but we know that the delay is a result of God’s patience and desire for all to come to repentance. Matthew opens his Gospel with a quotation from this week’s Isaiah passage. Here John the Baptist is presented as the one preparing the way of the Lord.
Read Isaiah 40:1-11. When have you profoundly experienced God’s guidance or protection? How did this experience change you?
Read Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13. Consider the author’s questions. How can you and your faith community return to God to “dwell in God’s land”?
Read 2 Peter 3:8-15a. How might considering God’s time alter your perspective on your daily rush and prompt you toward a greater experience of peace?
Read Mark 1:1-8. When have you reached a spiritual dead end? How did the working of the Holy Spirit help you turn around or move forward in a new way?
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