God’s Personal Call
This Sunday’s Gospel, in which John the Baptist calls the people to prepare themselves to “see the salvation of God” is not just a simple Advent reminder to get ready for the holy day of Christmas. If we pay attention, as if often the case, to the stranger parts of this Gospel passage, we will find a particular urgency present in this call for reform.
Perhaps the oddest part of the Gospel today is that it mentions so many specific times and places. We are presented with the names of Tiberias Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias the civil rulers of that time, and the names of Annas and Caiaphas, the religious leaders of the Jewish people. We are not just told where John is preaching, the region of the Jordan River, but all the surrounding area: Judea, Galilee, Ituraea, Trachonitis, and Abilene. Why all this historical specificity? What does it mean for what John the Baptist has to say to us today?
Luke’s Gospel gives us this historical context for two reasons: to demonstrate that all the events of Christ’s life and work of salvation really happened, and to remind us that God comes to meet us exactly where we are as well. The second of these is particularly important for our understanding. This passage intends to show us that God does not work in the abstract. His teaching, His calls to repentance, His actions of salvation, do not exist in the realm of myth or legend. They are not merely or purely spiritual. God works in specifics. While He does desire the salvation of every soul across time and space, He doesn’t wish this in a vague manner. He desires the salvation of every soul by name. He doesn’t just call “people” to repentance, but rather, He calls the people of Judea, under Pilate, the people of Galilee, under Herod. In the same way, He, through John’s voice in our Gospel, calls us, the specific people within the boundaries of Queen of Apostles parish in Alexandria.
This specificity of call is absolutely crucial for our spiritual life. Sometimes it can feel as though God is far away from us. We can wonder if the details of our lives really matter to Him, if He really cares about what happens in our day-to-day, if He understands how things work on our scale. As members of a Church that spans the entire globe, and has for centuries, we can wonder if the Church, through which God has chosen to come to us, is really relevant for us, on an individual scale. These questions can sometimes raise in us doubts about our value with God, disillusionment with the Sacraments, a spiritual lethargy brought about by discouragement, or a sense that my repentance and dedication to the spiritual life don’t really matter.
Thankfully, Christ answers every one of our questions with a resounding affirmation of His perfect and detailed love for us. We are taught that Christ, even in His human life, knew each of us by name, and chose to offer Himself on the Cross for us individually as well as corporately. It is this individual act of self-offering that Jesus makes present to us at every single Mass, in every confession, and in every other Sacrament, as well as in the reading of the Scriptures, in prayer, and in works of charity. Each one of us is more precious to Him than our dearest loved ones are to us, and so the fate of our souls, our choice to respond to grace or not, to repent or not, to receive the Sacraments well or not, matter to Him profoundly. Thus, the call of John to prepare the way of the Lord is not merely an ancient event, it is not some mythical and general call to be good, but is an urgent and personal invitation from Love Himself to be ready for His immanent arrival.