24 June 2008 Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Isaiah 49, 1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13, 22-26; Luke 1, 57-80
There is one defining moment in our lives. All that we have been, all that we have achieved, all that we have prepared for suddenly converges to that one moment. For John the Baptist, it was the time when he, as the Gospel puts it, ‘made his manifestation to Israel’. And all of the time before this debut, John was in the desert being formed by God. Isaiah in the first reading tells us that before he began his mission to unite the tribes of Israel, God prepared him first.
John the Baptist spent his time in the dessert, living a very inconspicuous life. Isaiah called it, his hidden life. Even Jesus spent 30 years in the background: we know some details of his childhood until 12 years old. And the next time we hear about Jesus, he was being baptized by John at 30.
The hidden life of many great people is as important as their defining moment. The hours spent burning the midnight oil, the regular practices, and the daily trek to the classrooms are just a few things that make up that once and for all decision or performance that defined them. The series of failures and disappointments and for some the unbearable heartaches that punctuated their unobtrusive life boils down to that moment. Usually it comes unexpectedly. For many actors and artists, they call it their break.
But what we would do with that break depends on how we are equipped. How much we have valued the time for reflection, study and practice in the quiet of our rooms, the gym, music studios, away from the spotlight, would soon be needed when you are in that one particular moment.
What is that moment then? It is the time when we make a life-changing decision, some even ritualizing it in a ceremony or a liturgy like religious vows or marriage. It is the time when a great big project is offered which we know will either make or break us. If we do it excellently — meaning, putting in everything we know and gave up —- we will be given bigger responsibilities. If our performance is lackluster, the next break would be unexceptional. Waste another opportunity, and everything goes down the drain.
St. John the Baptist’s words were simple, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” That is what we do simply everyday or the rest of our lives. Isaiah’s mission was to bring the tribes of Israel together. John the Baptist’s call to repentance was to bring people closer to the Lord. A lot of our personal preparations are about gathering our scattered selves. But the corporate enterprise of each one of us is to find what values we share and what we commonly believe. Josh Groban’s song, Thankful, in his Christmas album, Noël, puts it this way:
Even with our differences there is a place we‘re all connected
Each of us can find each other’s lives.
It is true: when we prepare, we define our lives. When we see how we were formed by God, we discover our identity.