My Dear Sisters and Brothers! The landscape of the wilderness in Israel has been created by seasonal streams appearing and disappearing over millennia. However both Isaiah and St Luke, inspired by the Spirit of God, saw the similarity of our human existence and the landscape of the Judean Desert. Our life has been carved into hills and valleys too. It is not good news, even if it may look exciting. I would like to use two Scriptural images to reflect on it. Both of them come from the beginning of the Bible, from the Book of Genesis.
The first image is from the chapter 3 which tells us about the Fall and its consequences. When our first parents disobeyed God’s commandment, when they sinned, they ‘hid themselves from God among the trees of the garden.’ By their sin they had created a bottomless canyon which had separated them from God. Before they were told to leave the Garden of Eden they had already drifted from the intimate relationship with God they enjoyed from the moment to creation. They had fixed an abyss between them and God. Over the history of humankind men and women by their own sins, by their own disobedience to God, have continued carving the many abysses which separate us from God. It is the sense of guilt and despair which looks bottomless.
The second image is from Genesis too. It comes from the chapter 11 where we find the story of the tower of Babel. The sinful people had grown in their self-absorption and selfishness. They wanted to build for themselves ‘a town and a tower with its top reaching heaven.’ Although we don’t see Satan as clearly as he was in the story of the Fall the people’s aspirations in the story of the tower of Babel echoed his temptations: ‘You will be like gods.’ People fell for it again. We have been falling for it again and again over millennia when our selfishness inspires us to create the hills of pride and independence from God, when we attempt to substitute our own products and achievements for God.
In this rugged human existence, our existence, a voice cries: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low.’ Some may ask what would be the new altitude of this new spiritual landscape of new humankind. The altitude altitude is defined by what the first people enjoyed before the Fall. The inspired author wrote that they hid when ‘they heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.’ God was coming to them as their creator, father and friend. However the first parents’ attitude towards God had changed. They had lost their sense of being dearly loved children of God.
The voice of the Baptist announces to us Good News that God who by his word created everything has sent us the Word, his only begotten Son Jesus Christ. By accepting in faith and trust his Gospel we will undergo this conversion – metanoia. It is the change of thinking which is promised to us.
That bottomless gulf of guilt and despair which we experience when we sin, when we fail God, other people and ourselves is now filled in to the level where we hear the most uplifting voice from heaven: ‘You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son.’ This is the level for a happy life for us, the level where we live as children of God. And to this level the hills of our pride and selfishness will be brought down too. We don’t need to make ourselves like gods. It will not fulfill our aspirations. What will fulfill them is our belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come down to us so that we could live as sons and daughters of God. Such life is a straight path. Such life is seeing the salvation of God.