In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'" -Luke 3:1-6
About this week's prompts for meditation
The message of the prophets delivers bad news to the oppressors but good news to the broken hearted, the broken in spirit, the broken in body or psyche or relationship. From the liminal wilderness a voice cries that loneliness opens the path of grace. The broken heart's healing will raise the valleys, the oppressed soul's liberation will level the mountains, and rescue from desperation will smooth the rough passages. Human struggles refine the dross of life, and bitterness yields joy. Does this make sense? Not really.
In the tradition of the prophets, John the Baptist offers this alternative to common sense - perhaps another kind of sense altogether. He calls upon us prepare the way for The One Who is To Come. This week’s meditation prompts encourage the practice of watching the signs of the imminent end of things (meditation one), turning loneliness into longing for this One (meditation two). By living into our own brokenness in the desert of our soul, you and I are given the grace to quench the arid earth of others (meditation three).
May your own soul's desert bloom this Advent, - Suzanne
Meditation One (introit)
Conversion / Turning
If the walls of your home were shaking with age, the roofs above you were trembling, and the house, now worn out and wearied, were threatening an immediate collapse of a structure crumbling with age, wouldn't you get out of it as quickly as possible? If you were on a voyage, and an angry, raging tempest violently aroused by the wave fortold the coming shipwreck, wouldn't you quickly seek harbor? Well, the world is changing and passing away; it witnesses to its own ruin now, not by old age, but by the end of things. So shouldn't you thank God, shouldn't you congratulate yourself, if by an early departure you're taken away and rescued from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent?
-Cyprian of Carthage d. 258
John the Baptist, Fra Angelico, Perugia Altarpiece, 1437
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight--indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God."
Zechariah, having been struck dumb by the angel in the temple, now finds his voice after naming his son, John, by writing on a tablet. Then, he proclaims this ecstatic prophecy, which the church calls the Benedictus. This canticle is said or sung in Daily Morning Prayer. "And you, my child" refers to the future John the Baptist. (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80)
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. -Luke 1:68-79
John the Baptist, Byzantine Mosaic, Hagia Sophia
Meditation Two (insight)
Lord, how long will it be? How long, Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face away from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself back to us?
… Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you.
-Anselm of Canterbury 1033-1109 Proslogion
Whatever grief longing for him brings
Whatever blood Love mixes in his wine
Be grateful; there's one worse fate –
Never seeing him once.
- Jalal-ud-Din Rumi,1207-1273
(Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi)
Meditation Three (integration) the arid earth of others Our brokenness is the wound through which the full power of God can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God. Loneliness is not something from which we must flee but the place from where we can cry out to God, where God will find us and we can find God. Yes, through our wounds the power of God can penetrate us and become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us. Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others, so that hope and love are reborn.
- Jean Vanier The Broken Body (1988,Paulist Press)
The Last Word
Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity.
-Herman Melville 1819-1891
Trusting the Messenger
I trust him. A voice of hope cries in the wilderness and still cries and not even time or the capricious desert winds have silenced him.
I trust him. Here is the voice of someone utterly pure. With open faith, he lives only on what the desert gives him – locusts or carob and wild honey. He wears a garment made from the skin of a carcass of a beast abandoned in the desert. His belt evokes the prophet Elijah who was also nourished in the desert by angels and ravens and, wrapped in his mantel, spoke with God from a cleft in a rock.
Large numbers of people go out to the desert to hear John preach. What did he say that was so timely? Repent. Turn around. A message for every individual soul in every age and culture. No wonder so many people say they love Advent better than Christmas. No one is finished repenting by the time Christmas comes. The promise of deep change rends not only the sky but the human heart, flooding the emptiness with promise, hope for peace, justice, holiness.
The broken heart fills the valley, the oppressed soul levels the mountains, desperation smooths the rough passages. Human struggles refine the dross of life, and bitterness yields joy. Good news comes in the desert, because the desert is the only place you can hear it.