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The message of liberation

We reflect on John the Baptist and his mission on this second Sunday of Advent. 

John begins his mission in the desert (v. 2), a place full of memories and deep emotional resonance for the Israelites. In the desert, they learned to break away from all that was superfluous; they learned to be in solidarity and to share their goods with each other; they learned, above all, to trust God. 

At the time of Jesus, it was in the desert that those who wanted to repeat the experience of their spiritual fathers withdrew. They were those who wanted to escape the hypocrisy of a religion of formalism and purely exterior practices. Those who rejected the corrupt, unjust and oppressive society installed in their land went to live in the desert. 

Like John, Christians in the world are called to live the spirituality of the desert. In a world where recourse to violence, retaliation and even war is considered normal, they are expected to speak only words of peace and forgiveness. In a world where those who hoard goods and exploit the weakest are proclaimed blessed, they are to announce free service to the poor and sharing. In a world where pleasure is sought at all costs, they are invited to preach renunciation and self-giving.

From the desert, the place of his vocation, John moves to the region of the Jordan. He travels far and wide proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. To take possession of the Promised Land, the Israelites came out of Egypt and crossed the River Jordan (Joshua 3). The Baptist chose this border territory for his mission.

In the rite of baptism that John administers, he wants everyone to repeat the act of entering and crossing the Jordan into the land of freedom. For that he asks everyone to take a resolute decision to radically change how they think and live. 

The valleys to be filled, the mountains to level out, the hills to make low, the crooked ways to make right and inaccessible places to smooth out are undoubtedly intended not in a material sense, but as symbols of another reality. 

In biblical language the mountains and the hills are the pride, haughtiness and arrogance of those who want to impose, dominate others (see Isaiah 2:11-17).

The kingdom of God is incompatible with these attitudes. It cannot get to where cut-throat competition reigns, where one tries in every way to overwhelm the other, where castes are accepted, where bows, prostrations and curtsies are required. 

Then there are the depths to fill. They are the scandalous economic inequalities denounced by the prophets. The crooked paths are cunning, senseless choices, injustices that need to be brought in line with the ways of God. 

 The last part of the quote is particularly important: All flesh will see the salvation of God! (v.6). 

Not every man, but all flesh—says the original text. In the biblical sense, flesh is not the muscles, but the whole person considered in his appearance of being weak, fragile, exposed to so many failures. 

Man is flesh because he gets sick, makes mistakes, suffers loneliness and abandonment, grows old and dies. Here then is the promise: in every man’s weakness God’s salvation will manifest itself; there will be no abyss of guilt so deep and dark that will not be visited and enlightened by his love.

Luke places this statement at the beginning of his gospel. He chooses it almost as the title of his work, because it contains a solemn declaration: God does not reserve his salvation to some privileged people, but wants it to be offered to all.

• Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications