"Always, God never fails to intervene."
St. Matthew, the Evangelist, announces the coming of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah. Gone were the days when the people’s faith in one God and their leaders was solid as a rock as in the time of the Macabees. The Idumean Herod the Great, the client king of the Romans and a polarizing figure in Jewish society, is long dead; many religious factions adhering to diverse religious views, such as the Pharisees, Sudducees, Essenes, Zealots and what have you, have emerged in their midst further dividing and confusing the community. Roman Emperor Tiberius divided Israel among Herod’s sons, assigning Judea and Jerusalem to Herod Archelaus. There was no trusted leader among the people unlike in the Davidic era. Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas were mistrusted because of their questionable allegiance as they were seen as lackeys of the Roman oppressors. The Roman emperor’s stranglehold over Jewish society remain stronger than ever. In other words, John came into the scene during one of the most turbulent times in Jewish history.
It is a time of uncertainty and insecurity when John came out of the wilderness to preach the gospel of repentance, urging the people to be baptized. His message resonated among the people who were beginning to doubt in God’s providence, feeling that he has abandoned his people. It was a message of hope amidst hypocrisy, violence and greed, conflict and confusion. It was at this time when everything seemed hopeless that God sent a messenger to rekindle the hope of the people, calling on them to put their trust in the Lord.
Every person’s relationship with God is a microcosm of the Chosen People’s historical experiences. Sometimes a person is driven to a point so low such that he teeters on the verge of despair. It is as if God has concealed his face from him. Regardless of the extent of one’s spiritual maturity, it’s possible to reach this point to actually feel that everyone —even God —has made himself scarce. It was at this point in life that King David, hiding in a cave being pursued by his enemies, cried out in despair—How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
John the Baptist spoke the words of God, but he also acknowledged that there is one greater than him whose sandal he is not worthy to unstrap. The Prophet was speaking about Jesus, the Prophet of all Prophets. God answered the people’s cries through Jesus Christ who revealed Himself to redeem humanity from the bondage of sin and reconcile mankind with the Father. The Messiah brings hope and salvation to all, Jews and gentiles alike.
Does our world and society not mirror the kind of social environment that John the Baptist was in? Ours is a society so permeated with violence, fear, insecurity, poverty, hypocrisy, disrespect for cherished values and all forms of societal ills that hope can only be derived in Jesus Christ. Is it not that communities are now so detached from God that people would preoccupy themselves with their own secular devices, plots and schemes rather than cultivate a good relationship with God?
Without Christ we are nothing. By his life and teachings, He has shown to us that there can be peace even in the midst of the direst of situations in life; that God will never abandon the faithful who repose their trust in him. Ours is a faithful God of history. He intervenes in every point of human events even when sometimes we do not recognize him. It is understood as God’s breaking into this political and social history. Always, God never fails to intervene. He walks amongst us even as we try to survive in the darkest of hour. A true believer clings to his faith despite the promptings of forces telling him not to trust in his God because those who persevere until the very end will be amply rewarded.
What does this faith mean in the time of the climate emergency, the consistent attacks against human rights, the prevalence of corruption and sexual violence? What are we called to do as believers to respond to these challenges?
This Advent, the Lord is once again calling on us all to renew ourselves. Just as John called upon his people to prepare the way for Jesus, we too are being called to welcome Him this Advent Season and illumine, by our good example, the dark path that surrounds us.
As Pope Francis said about John the Baptist’s attitude of “he must increase, I must decrease,” even suffering in prison the “interior torture of doubt,” we too have the mission to make Christ reign in us. “To diminish, diminish, diminish.” That “was the life of John,” Pope Francis repeated. “A great man who did not seek his own glory, but the glory of God”—a man who died in such a prosaic manner, in anonymity, the pope reflected. This Advent let us make the cry of John the Baptist our guiding principle—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
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