Today John the Baptist uncharacteristically takes center stage. As we hear from today’s Gospel, he is but “a voice crying out in the desert,” whose life work is to “prepare the way of the Lord.” At the proper time later on, when Jesus begins his Public Ministry, the Baptist will opt to decrease as his cousin increases, fading disceetly to the periphery. But today, he steps into the limelight and quotes the bold promise that God has made through the prophet Isaiah:
“The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
I don’t know about you, but these words sadden and bewilder me. If we look at our world today, the winding roads have not been made straight, and the rough ways far from smooth. Just to take one concrete example, the incidences of deaths from gun violence in the US–be they from homicide, accident, or suicide–have been increasing from 2001 and are way above the number of deaths caused by terrorism (which is, of course, another story)!
And this is just the United States. What about all the deaths in the Middle East and all the other violence-wracked parts of the world? The statistics of migrants dying or missing in the Mediterranean as they desperately struggle to escape their countries is staggering when we remind ourselves that these numbers actually represent real lives: men, women, and children just like you and me.
Confronted with such a world, we can’t help but wonder what the prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist when they claim that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” We can’t help but feel that we haven’t! We still haven’t seen the salvation of God.
The operative word here is “still.” Hidden in this one word is the hope of Advent: That all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, to hope still in the coming of the Lord.
Remember the old man Simeon, the prophet who meets Mary and Joseph in the temple of Jerusalem? Upon seeing the infant in Mary’s arms, he cries out, “My eyes have seen Your salvation!” All his life he has waited for this moment, and the moment has finally come. But when you think about it, he is not entirely correct, for he has not exactly seen the fullness of God’s salvation, only its beginnings.
I think our situation is better than Simeon’s. We have seen not only the beginnings of our salvation, but also its fulfilment in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord. God’s work of redemption has been completed, but not our response to it. God works in us, but also through us. He has done his part, but we need to continue doing ours as well–and we can do so only in faith that the Holy Spirit always guides us, and only in hope.
Today’s Gospel reading invites us to hope and–despite every sinking feeling in our hearts about the world–to hope against hope that “all flesh shall see God’s salvation.” This is what Advent waiting means–to believe that God will, against every odd, complete his work of salvation not only in us, but also through us. So as we continue to enter more deeply into this season of Advent, let us not give up waiting and like Simeon, keep hoping that God will still and in time show us his salvation.