Our gospel reading opens with a list of “who’s who” in the political and religious world of John the Baptist, as he starts his ministry in the desert. The use of precise historical references is typical of Luke in writing his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. What is his purpose?
Luke writes of something deeply spiritual and mystical, but also real and factual. He wants to underscore that the story of Jesus and the Church is historical, and not a legend or a myth. Thus, he takes particular care to situate the happenings of his narrative in real time and space, putting them in the context of historical persons and events.
Luke’s distinctive regard for the historicity of his gospel manifests not only his fidelity to Truth, but also his sensibility to the sacred character of history. By becoming man, God broke into time and space, and through his Son, Jesus Christ, inserted himself in human history. He becomes one of us and lives among us. He is God-with-us, Emmanuel. By participating in our journey, he turns our human story into sacred history.
That is why it is terribly disturbing to know that certain people readily tamper with history and arbitrarily revise it to suit to their whims and selfish purposes. Such action borders on the sacrilegious because it violates something sacred.
History records the interfacing of God and man and the interlocking of their actions. God does not only share in our sufferings and struggles, but more importantly, he intervenes with his saving love and mercy, as he did with Judah by taking them out of their Babylonian captivity and bringing them home (first reading). Thus, to “deconstruct” our past and deny our communal experience, like that of EDSA ’86, is to deny that God intervened to save us and restore our freedom.
Luke introduces John the Baptist as the precursor of the promised Messiah by laying out the precise time-space coordinates of his preaching. After identifying the most significant persons of the time (emperor, governor, tetrarchs, and pontiffs), Luke proceeds to tell that “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.”
The word of God did not come to the high and mighty, but to a lowly recluse, identified only as the son of Zechariah. It was not heard in the palaces and halls of kings and high priests, but in the desert. Salvation is proclaimed where there is silence and emptiness and is audible only to those who are open and humble. Indeed, God comes to us in the desert places of our lives.
Advent is a time to prepare for the Lord’s coming. John the Baptist teaches us how: by levelling the mountains and filling the valleys, straightening the crooked paths and making smooth the rugged roads. We are familiar with the meaning of these images. It means knocking down the mountains of our arrogance and pride, filling in the void of our prayerless and minimalist life, straightening our vicious and sinful ways and smoothening our relationships with love and compassion. In a word, the call of advent is a call to conversion.*