Luke’s introduction to John the Baptist is quite top-heavy with important people: We are told in this Advent Gospel that John appeared when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, and Annas and Caiaphas high priests. Maybe the traditional reason for naming all these authorities is to give the prophet a historical context, to “prove” his existence.
But a more interesting way of looking at this list is to contrast the majesty of governors, tetrarchs, and high priests with a nobody, the son of an ordinary temple priest, whose only role was to hear a call and answer it. In one way, the story of John is a meditation on the insignificance of “importance,” isn’t it, whether the prize be a political office or a cardinal’s red hat? The life of this prophet who proclaims a baptism of repentance speaks to us of embracing a holy emptiness that prepares for the fullness of grace to come. It is a life in which: Christ must increase; I must decrease.
John’s story is an echo of a voice crying out in the many deserts of our troubled century, urging us to say “I am sorry” for making my life a mirror of Me instead of a mission to bring the good news of hope to our world. Isn’t it our mission, as a nation, as a people, as a Gospel community, to straighten the insidiously winding roads of the lost children still hidden away from their parents in internment camps? To smooth the rough ways of the caravan trying to reach asylum in our country? To recognize that we are all refugees called to be companions on the common journey, to know that the call must be answered? Because everyone belongs or no one belongs.
Given our powerlessness, what is the answer?
It’s both simple and anything but. It has to be a personal response to the life-challenging call to Transformation: to be more than the person I was by accepting, as sacrament, the God-sent opportunities of each present moment, each now . . . and to become, on my way through whatever darkness comes, the immigrant that God meant me to be.