“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3)
Remember those Christmases when you were a child when you didn’t get the gift you wanted? You kept opening present after present looking for that one gift that you wanted above everything else. But alas, it was not under the tree. You smiled half-heartedly playing with the toys that you received but were disappointed because you had just spent all of December expecting something that never came. As adults, we still long for certain things. Sometimes it's events. For example, many young people long for the day they meet Mr. or Mrs. Right or finish college. For parents, they may long for the day their kids finally graduate and leave the house. For local sports fans, we long for our Dolphins to win the Super Bowl (sigh). Most of these things may or may not happen, but yet there is still a hope that drives us.
In today's readings, we see three instances where God's people expected something that never came. (1) The first reading was directed to the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. They longed to return to Jerusalem, and they eagerly anticipated the Messiah to be the one that would lead them back and restore Jerusalem to its glory. They would eventually return to Jerusalem, but alas, the Messiah had not yet arrived and they found a city and a temple left in ruins that had to be rebuilt. (2) In the gospel, we hear the preaching of John the Baptist announcing the imminent arrival of the Messiah. However, many expected a militant Messiah, as the Babylonian Jews did, who would lead them victoriously over the Romans and restore the glory of Israel as it was during the time of King David. The Messiah did come, but it was not the Messiah that people had expected. (3) The first Christian community kept hearing over and over again that Christ’s return was imminent, and they lived lives of joyful expectation. However, like a disappointed child on Christmas morning, they didn’t get what they longed for. Yet, they were still hopeful which should be the attitude of every Christian not only during Advent but throughout the year.
All of us long for many things. These longings and wishes are particularly present around this time of year. We long for happiness, peace, financial security, love, health, but unfortunately none of these things will magically appear under our tree on Christmas morning. The only thing we can be certain that we will receive this Christmas is the presence of our Lord. How we receive him is entirely up to us. We hear the voice of John the Baptist in today’s gospel telling us to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths, but the Lord isn’t going to force his way into our hearts on Christmas Day. We have to prepare a place for him. We have to clear a direct path, a highway without obstacles or tolls if you will, so that he can totally take over our hearts. And if we do prepare a place for him, he will be all that we need on that day. A heart overflowing with the love of Christ has no need for anything else because it has all that it needs and desires. This Advent season is a time of preparation, a time of filling in valleys and tearing down mountains to ensure that Lord’s path to our hearts is straight and direct. When I was a child, I may not have found the present I wanted underneath the Christmas tree every year, but I did always find a little child lying in a manger. I know now what I didn’t know then: Christ is all I need this Christmas.