To listen to the audio version of today’s homily please play the file below:
In the time of Jesus when pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem to pray in the temple, they came a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and went on for 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. I have a picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s showing that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.
A couple of years ago I went up to Jerusalem along that same route in an air-conditioned bus. I wasn’t walking it, as pilgrims did long ago. I made it in a few hours; it took them four days.
In the bible that journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding road through the desert, became a symbol of the journey to God we all make. We’re pilgrims on our way to meet God, and that way can be hard.
I think that’s why John the Baptist went into the desert, where that winding, climbing road began. John’s father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told John at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1)
Where did John prepare the way? God called him to the wilderness to the beginning of the desert road. There at the River Jordan he welcomed weary pilgrims and invited them into the refreshing waters of the river, that they might be strengthened for the journey they would make.
Last week our readings warned us about falling asleep through complacency and laziness. This week our readings may remind us we can also get tired out doing good. Day by day doing what we’re supposed to do can wear us out. We can get hungry and lost and maybe even give up, doing good. Unexpected things, like sickness, failures and disappointments can wear us down. They can rob us our energy. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan, the man robbed and beaten. That happened on this same road to Jerusalem.
Before John the Baptist, the Prophet Isaiah, also a priest in the temple of Jerusalem, spoke to pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem. “‘Comfort, give comfort to my people,’ says the Lord…Isaiah spoke words of hope to those on the way:
The Lord is in the desert, Isaiah say, and using the same winding, climbing, wearying road, he promises that the Lord is preparing your way, a highway, every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rugged land shall be made plain, the crooked way straight.
Don’t be afraid. The Lord is “like a shepherd feeding his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 1-5,9-11)
Advent is a beautiful season calling us to “go up with joy to the house of the Lord.”