With Christmas only eight days away, it is not surprising that each of today’s readings turns our attention to the birth that brought unconquerable hope to the world. In the gospel we hear the stirring proclamation of John the Baptist: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” Those words instruct us to turn our attention to the “one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” Indeed, the gospel says that the whole purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry was “to testify to the light,” Christ, God’s anointed one who is about to enter the world.
The second reading from 1 Thessalonians could be viewed as a succinct and very practical guide for how to prepare for the coming of Christ. We are to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks” and, perhaps most importantly, “Refrain from every kind of evil.” If we do these things, we will be fully ready to receive the gift of abundant life and unsurpassable love with which God wants to bless us at Christmas.
Finally, the first reading from Isaiah, the powerful Messianic prophecy, tells us exactly what Jesus’ mission in the world will be. He comes not to bring glory to himself or to exalt himself over others; rather, in Jesus, God enters our world “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” Jesus comes to bring a harvest of justice and peace, particularly for those who are most often denied them. If this is so, perhaps the best way we can ready ourselves for the coming of Christ is to do now for others the very things that Jesus comes to do—and continues to do—for us.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist Family of Holy Cross Province.