First reading, Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11: This section of Isaiah comes from the turbulent period when the Jews were trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland after enduring a generation of exile in Babylon. The prophet says of himself that God has anointed him with the Spirit and sent him to bring good news to those in need of it. The good news consists of the healing of the broken-hearted and the liberation of prisoners. He also uses the image of the earth in its bringing forth of new vegetation in the spring. He says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God is the joy of my soul.” This hope for the coming of salvation finds its fulfillment in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Inaugurating his public ministry in Nazareth, Jesus declared He was the fulfillment of this passage from Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21), because he had been anointed by the Spirit of God to bring good news to the poor. We rejoice at the fulfillment of the prophecy about Jesus in this passage.
There was a certain kingdom that had been blessed with long line of kings who were both wise and good. The explanation was thought to lie in a magic ring. The ring had been passed down faithfully form father to the eldest son., who inherited the throne. At one time it happened that a king had twins, both boys. They were named Peter and Paul and the king loved them equally. Now the king fell very ill and found it very difficult to make a decision as to whom the ring should be given? He got another ring made exactly like the first. It was so good that it was impossible to differentiate it.
He called the two sons separately and gave each of them a ring. When Peter came to know that his brother too had received a ring he made a terrible scene, because he wanted to be sure that he had the magic ring. The king consulted a wise man to help him to make the decision. The wise man was unable to verify the authenticity of the ring, but said that it is a question of time, which will manifest the goodness of the person about the veracity of the ring.
The king recovered from his illness and reigned for many more years. When at last he was nearing death he called in his two sons once more. Peter was the first to come and he began to claim adamantly that he possessed the ring. But people who knew him best were also asked their opinion. His wife told how over the years he had shown very little affection. His children said that he was never at home. His servants complained that he had been very hard o them and had paid them poor wages. His neighbors told how he was forever stirring up trouble among them.
Paul came in without any claims, but the people who knew him were asked of their opinion. They had only praises for him, because he had proved to be a loving husband and a kind father to the children he had treated his servants with respect and generosity. He had been a force for peace and goodwill among his neighbors.
Now the king spoke: Peter you have witnessed to the presence of the ring, but only with your words. Paul on the other hand, has witnessed to it with his deeds, that is, with his life. Therefore he declared the genuineness of the ring, which is with Paul. Now Paul was asked to produce it, but he no longer had it, because he gave it to a poor woman and her child to buy food and clothes. The king far from being angry was pleased to hear about it and succeeded to the throne of the kingdom.
The second son resembles John the Baptist. The Gospel speaks of a man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. The Jews and the Levites were quite eager to know about his identity and asked him, “Who are you?” He said; “I am not the Christ.” Then they became more curious about it and asked further questions; “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the Prophet?” To them quoting Prophet Isaiah he said; “ I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make a straight path for the Lord.” How did he accomplish this task?
“Every valley shall be lifted up:” The valleys to be lifted up represent all the voids of our behavior before God, all our sins of omission. A void in our life can be the fact that we don’t pray or pray little. Hence, Advent is the favorable moment to pray with more intensity, to give to the spiritual life the important place it deserves. Another void might be our lack of charity towards our neighbor, especially towards those most in need of help, not only material but also spiritual. We are called to be more conscious of the needs of others, closer to them. Thus, like John the Baptist, we can open paths of hope in the desert of the arid hearts of so many people.
“Every mountain and hill be made low” exhorts again Isaiah. The mountains and hills that must be made low are pride, haughtiness and arrogance. Where there is pride, where there is arrogance, where there is haughtiness the Lord can’t enter because that heart is full of pride, of haughtiness, of arrogance. Therefore, we must lower this pride. We must assume meek and humble attitudes, without rebuking, listening, talking meekly and thus preparing the coming of our Savior, He who is meek and humble of heart (Cf. Matthew 11:29). Then we are asked to eliminate all the obstacles we put to our union with the Lord: “The uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed – says Isaiah — and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:4-5). However, these actions are to be done with joy, because they are geared to the preparation of Jesus’ arrival. When we expect at home the visit of a dear person, we prepare everything with care and happiness. We want to predispose ourselves in the same way for the coming of the Lord: to attend to Him every day with solicitude, to be filled with His grace when He comes.
John’s humility: The evangelist John presents John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “a voice in the desert” calling for Israelites to prepare a way for the coming of Jesus. John in his Gospel takes special care to stress the fact that Jesus surpasses John the Baptist. The Baptizer declares: “I am baptizing only with water; but there is One among you–you don’t recognize him–and I am not worthy to untie the straps of his shoes.” Any greatness he possessed came from the greatness of the one whose coming he foretold. John is thus the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself for Jesus. He lived only to point the way to Christ.
Bearing witness to Jesus is our mission as well as John’s: The idea that the Baptizer came as a witness to testify to the Light (Jesus), is found only in the Gospel of John. According John, Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Just as the dawn of each new day brings joy, the coming of Jesus, the Light of the world, causes us to rejoice. We, the Church, are called to bear witness to Christ by word and deed, in good times and bad—when it suits us and when it doesn’t. The witness of the Church, ironically, has often been more faithful under persecution than under prosperity. We need to be messengers who point out Christ to others, just as John did. John the Baptist’s role as a joyful witness prepared the way for Jesus. John also provides an example for us because our vocation as Christians is to bear “witness” to Christ by our transparent Christian lives.