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Time in the Wilderness

The main character is today’s Gospel is John the Baptist.  In fact, the Third Sunday of Advent is always about John the Baptist.  Our church has devised a calendar which says that the Third Sunday of Advent is John the Baptist Sunday, and the Fourth Sunday of Advent is always devoted to Mary and her role in the incarnation.


When John the Baptist was preaching, he was always facing a large group of critics.  As we heard in today’s gospel they kept asking, “Who are you anyway?”  His critics were asking, “Where did you study the bible?  Where did you go to school?”  John said to them, “I did not go to school.  I come to you from the wilderness, and they don’t have schools out there.”


Then they would say, “Can anything good come out of the wilderness?”  “Yes.” John said.  “Your ancestors came from the wilderness.  They spent 40 years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea.  The wilderness is part of your heritage.”  His critics were silent.  Indeed, John had turned the tables on them.  The Pharisees were spiritual leaders and John showed them that he knew the Bible better than they did. 


Then they said, “Well, yes, the wilderness is part of our heritage. But it was really a dark period in our history.  When our people were in the wilderness, all the culture and education came to a complete stop.  Those were the Dark Ages.”  “How can you say that?” John asked them.  “The wilderness was good for our people.  When they were in the wilderness they came back to God.  They came back to saying their prayers and following the commandments.    The wilderness is an empty place.  There’s nothing to do out there except talk to God.  And that is what they did!


They saw their sinfulness.  They repented.  They felt God’s mercy.  And they were happy.  I wish you folks would come into the desert with me.”  John said.  If you talk to God face to face you will be happy again.  You will have joy in your hearts and you will inner peace.  You will get rid of your cynicism and your bitterness.  The Lord will lead you to the waters of baptism.  I will offer you a baptism that will take away your negative spirit.”


“Stop your foolish talk.” His critics said.  “You are claiming to be the Messiah and we will not accept such a claim.  The Messiah will have power and glory and all you have to offer is baptism.”  “You are not listening very carefully.” John said.  “I did not say that I am the Messiah.  And the Messiah will bring a different kind of Baptism.  My baptism will take away your negative spirit and His Baptism will give you a positive spirit.  The Messiah will give you a spirit-filled Baptism.  His Baptism will fill you with the spirit of hope and optimism.”


“If you are open to receiving His Gospel you will receive a gentle and loving spirit.  You will find yourselves caring more about people and less about things.  You will spend time visiting people who are lonely.  You will visit those who can’t come to see you.  The Messiah will put a new spirit into your life.  You will no longer say that life is boring because the new spirit will push you to become more interested in other people.  You will share your talents with your community instead of keeping them for yourself.”


Soon the people were asking John, “Where can we meet this Messiah, the one who will bring us a new spirit?  “You will have to go to the wilderness.” John said.  “You will have to go to the wilderness.”


Indeed, John’s words were prophetic.  When Jesus came upon the scene, He headed for the wilderness.  When Jesus left the desert, he was accompanied by a new spirit, a spirit that he wanted to share with the people. 


The crowds began to ask Jesus, “How can we receive this new spirit, the Holy Spirit?”  Jesus told them, “First you must go into the wilderness.  Then you can be baptized.”  “That doesn’t make sense.” They told him.  “If we all go into the wilderness, the wilderness will become a city.  The wilderness will disappear.”  Then Jesus explained, “The wilderness is not located in the desert. The wilderness is any place where you can be alone with God.  The wilderness can be anywhere, any place where you can be alone with God.”  Of course, not everyone took the advice that Jesus gave…But those who did were soon filled with a new spirit!  They found themselves praising God instead of complaining about everything.


Today we find ourselves preparing for the feast of Christmas.  After we send out all the Christmas cards and buy all the presents, we’re still not ready.  We won’t be 100 per cent ready until we go into a spiritual wilderness.  We need to do spiritual preparation.  We need to spend time alone with God.  If we do that, the Lord will give us the best Christmas gifts…the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Namely:  Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, fear of the Lord and the gift of prayer.


Yes, the gift of prayer is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul says that we do not know how to pray; but the Holy Spirit prays within us, and the Lord hears his prayer.  Today let’s make sure that our Christmas preparations are complete.  Remember: spiritual preparation is the most important preparation.  We need to find a time and a place where we can be alone with God.

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