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PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD WITH JOHN IN THE DESERT
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, 2nd Week of Advent, December 10, 2011
Sir. 48:1-4, 9-11, Ps. 79, Matt. 17:10-13


"And the disciples asked him, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?' He replied, ‘Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.' Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist" (Matt. 17:10-13).


Although John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah (John 1:21), Jesus says that he fulfilled the role of Elijah (Matt. 11:14), who was to return "to restore all things" (Matt. 17:11), as Malachi prophesied: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible say of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:5-6). Jesus said, "All the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come" (Matt. 11:13-14). The angel Gabriel said to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, that his son John "will go before him [God] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared" (Luke 1:17). This is what John did. He prepared the way of the Lord in the desert.


About John, Jesus said, "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in king's houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you and more than a prophet" (Matt. 12:7-9).


John was a prophet, the precursor of the Lord, of the Messiah (Matt. 11:10). He did not wear soft raiment, but the "hairy mantle" of the prophets (2 Kings 1:8; Zech. 13:4). "John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist (Mark 1:6). He was called by God to prepare the way of the Lord in the desert. "This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee'" (Matt. 11:10).


John's life was his first and foremost sermon. It was a solitary life in the desert, far from the city, far from the world, far from the food and clothing of the civilized world. He went into the desert to live with God, and only for God, with all his heart, without any division of heart among the delights and temptations of the world. But in the end, everyone went out into the desert to see him, to hear his teaching, and to receive his baptism, confessing their sins.


This is how God planned the final preparation for his coming into the world. We are preparing ourselves now, especially during Advent, for the coming of Christ in glory on the clouds of heaven in great light. The example of the life of John in the desert shows us how we should prepare ourselves for this coming. We too should live only for God in everything, as did John. Therefore the desert is the ideal place for us too. We are to live a life of prayer and fasting, of austerity and contemplation, and of simplicity and modesty, far from the world and its temptations and distractions. We should go, like John, into the desert, or live as though we were in the desert, in solitude with God, to prepare his way, to make the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

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