A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord,make straight his paths.
We have just had our first snowfall and voices coming from the street are muffled, air is crisp and fresh, snowflakes are twirling and settling gently on the sleeping plants.
Our two neighbours worked hard last weekend decorating their houses. As we drove back from work last night those wonderful huge rooftop Santas and reindeers, along with countless strings of lights, shone out triumphantly at us.
As always I felt guilty - our Christmas lights' display is usually limited to the front window and is far from the last cry in Christmas decoration. We light them, following the Polish tradition, on Christmas Eve.
"Christmas," I thought looking at the lights, and almost involuntarily came the nasty little voice, "and that means - on top of your work - cleaning, baking, cooking, shopping for presents.
‘One who is more powerful than I is coming after me’
"All that stress! Do you have to do it? Why not take the all-inclusive holiday deal in say, Dominica or Mexico? Get away from it all, come back suntanned and rested. You can do your church-thing there, too, you know."
I almost felt the warm breeze on my face and heard the waves on the beach . . . and oh, it would be so good to sleep longer.
Suddenly I sensed that something in this picture is missing, missing badly. Something important. Then it dawned on me. "And what about the Advent? There is no way I can get away for so long. And you know that there is no Christmas without Advent," I answered.
The voice went silent and stayed that way. Instead who appeared in my mind was the man of Advent, St. John the Baptist who prepared the way for Christ and died for the truth he taught. The loneliest of the prophets and so easily forgotten.
Would Jesus' teaching and even his miracles have drawn so many had their hearts not been moved by St. John's call to penance? How many of those who listened to the Sermon on the Mount had been prepared for it by the prophet? Would the Good News have broken through their hardened hearts had the listening men and women not confessed their sins and repented in the waters of the Jordan?
Who knows? Maybe without St. John's "voice in the desert," the gift of Body and Blood of Christ and our own resurrection at the end of all things would have to be withheld from us.
God does not give graces he knows will be rejected and wasted by most, if not all. To save Sodom and Gomorrah he asked for a few "just men" who would listen and open to him their hearts and his words and carry the seeds of purity to others. We know what happened when they were not found.
So, St. John, "the voice of one crying out in the desert," became my defence against the adversary within and fears of the world without. Such is the power of the words of the Holy Scripture and the great heroes of God.
"Prepare the way of the Lord," St. John calls out to me through the millennia. "Make straight his paths." As I listen to him, I am no longer worried that, as always, my Christmas will not be picture perfect and the presents under the tree will be meagre and ill-suited, my kitchen a mess, my cheesecake will burn at the bottom and gingerbread cookies will be hard like stone.
Instead, I begin to think how I can get ready for that real birth of Christ, the one that takes place in my heart, mine and those around me.
"How can I (of all people) make God's paths straight?" I ask St. John the Baptist. I like talking to saints because they always respond.
The answer came in a typically prophetic, ancient way - through a dream, during an unexpected brief afternoon nap. I never nap, not even on a plane, so that was strange in itself.
In the dream I see myself standing in front of a lovely, old-fashioned wooden confessional, waiting for a priest. Nothing unusual in it all, except that the confessional is filled with the invisible yet indescribably powerful, personal Love that I know for sure is waiting for the priest and me.
I can sense total understanding and great joy, far greater than anything I have ever experienced coming from the Love that I somehow know is Christ.
It takes so little to prepare for Christmas . . . and so much.
Thank you, St. John.