“A voice cries in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6)
Our Gospel this Sunday focuses on the person of John the Baptist and his important role in preparing the Jewish people for the coming of Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah and Savior. In the opening verses of our gospel, Luke provides a historical setting for John’s mission and gives him a great deal of print in his gospel. This not only demonstrates the importance of John as a precursor to Jesus, but also indicates the influence of his ministry. Paul, for whom Luke functioned as secretary, encountered many people during his missionary journeys who had received the baptism of John but did not yet know about Jesus. Paul needed to be very sensitive to their faith, to build on their relationship to John while leading them onward to Jesus Christ. John is given a very significant role in Luke’s gospel, but always in juxtaposition to Jesus whose mother was declared even more blessed than the mother of John, whose birth was even more miraculous, and who pointed his immediate disciples toward Jesus.
John received his call in the desert. Rather than wandering like a hermit in the desert since leaving home in his early teen years, John most likely lived at Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea with a religious community called the Essenes. They practiced a form of ritual baptism as a sign of purification and dedicated themselves to studying and copying the Hebrew scriptures. The community had established itself at Qumran to get away from the influences of the world. John was unique among the members of the community in receiving a call to go out to that surrounding world with the message of repentance.
During the Jewish uprising around 70 AD, the Essenes placed the many scrolls from their library in large clay jars which they hid in nearby caves for safekeeping as they evacuated the site to hold out against the Roman army at Masada, a bit further south along the Dead Sea. All the members of the community died at Masada. No one returned to Qumran, and the jars of scrolls, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were not discovered until the 1940s. From texts found among those scrolls is found indication that the Essenes used the same passage from Isaiah quoted about John, in today’s gospel, (Isaiah 40:3-5) to explain the existence of their community in the desert at Qumran.
This Advent, what are you doing to “prepare the way ” for the coming of Jesus?
(with thanks to Fr Denny Dempsey)