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Paving the way

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GOSPEL COMMENTARY DEC. 5, LK 3:1-6

Residents of Northern Virginia are well acquainted with roadwork. Be it on I-66 or the Beltway, we all know that road improvements (widening, repaving, straightening) often make it easier to get around, but just as often can seem like a perpetual project requiring major life changes. Thus, we have a keen insight into John the Baptist’s message in our Gospel today. In Luke 3:1-6, we find John filled with the word of God, crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord”and “make straight a highway in the desert for our God.”

That, however, is only the second portion of our Gospel reading for the Second Sunday in Advent. The first section likely baffles most readers. It’s a small list of political names and regions, some of which have long ago vanished from modern memory. Why all the inscrutable names and places? The answer is essential: Luke takes great pains to locate his Gospel in the concreteness of history. He quotes times and people and places to stress that the story he’s about to relate really happened in our world. 

After all, the Gospel is filled with fantastic tales. God becomes man. The blind see, the deaf hear, loaves are multiplied and Jesus rises from the dead. Even the figure of John the Baptist is larger than life. It would be easy for any reader of Luke’s Gospel to suppose this was all a collection of myths or fables like so many other contemporary religions, taking place “once upon a time.” Luke gives these details (“In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”) so that we take note: Our faith happened in concrete reality, the here and now of the world we live in. It impacts us not as theory, but in practice.

It also helps us receive John the Baptist’s message in a fresh way. John’s preaching of repentance of sins, along with the coming of the Lord, are things that impact our real life. They’re more than just abstract ideals to act as guiding stars. In fact, John’s exhortations to prepare the highway of the Lord in our lives are every bit as concrete and often every bit as messy and prolonged as real roadwork on I-95.

How so? Consider the parallels between roadwork and God’s work in our lives. Often, when we encounter construction on the highway, it forces a change in our daily routine. We might find ourselves stuck in traffic a bit longer, or forced to redirect to different lanes, or even to find a different route altogether. Such work makes a physical impact in how we live and requires patient changes to our day.  Sometimes this process goes on for years. The goal, though, is straighter roads and faster progress from A to B.

So too with God’s work in our lives: To make our hearts nearer to God, we often require some real work.  Sins are slowly carted away like mountains of dirt, each confession a dump truck’s progress toward level ground. Habits of grace and virtue are built up like overpasses, lifting our hearts higher and enabling quick transitions to keep us on the right path. But this more often than not requires a visible change in our daily routine and is sometimes even the work of years. It’s a work in progress, and often takes patience.

As we continue this season of Advent, a privileged time of preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts and minds, our Gospel inspires us to ask ourselves: Are we allowing God to make concrete, visible changes in our lives to bring us closer to him? And are we patient with God, ourselves and others as he does so?

Fr. Miserendino is parochial vicar of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021