Earlier this year, during the first lockdown period around Easter, I had to go into the city once a week to collect mail from the GPO in Bourke st.
It was quite eerie to see Melbourne’s streets empty in the middle of the day. Very few cars on the road, police everywhere and the few people on the street, me included, hurrying past each other.
When I read these scripture passages about wilderness, that is what came to mind. When I think about the loneliness and fear that many people experienced around the world during this year, again the image of the wilderness comes up. The wilderness, the place of loneliness, uncertainty, the place where there is no
security, the place where you can’t make plans with any confidence. The second reading reminds us that the Day of the Lord, the day where our plans, certainties and securities suddenly disappear, can come anytime.
This year many around the world, many of us here, have been in a time of insecurity,
and for some people, danger.
Look at today’s gospel. This is the place that John the Baptist came from. Many of those who John preached to also came from a place of insecurity. As we read the gospels, we find out that for many of those in Palestine life was unsure and insecure. They didn’t know if they would have work tomorrow, or if they’d be safe from the
occupying Roman army. They lived in fear of disease that could mean they would become beggars.
In Australia we’re blessed with an effective health and hospital system, and a society that generally is working together to get through the crisis. Even so, we are now more aware than we were a year ago that there are no promises, and that we need to question what our personal and societal priorities are. For all of us in a prosperous country like Australia there can be the passion to own, to possess, to control. If we are lucky, the pandemic has made us look at those passions, and question them.
Why did we as a society have people living on the streets? During the year we put them up in hotels. Have we now had a chance to look at what is important in our lives, in our society? What else in our society, what else in our own lives, do we need to question?
John comes out of the desert, out of the wilderness, with a message of hope. The wilderness forces us to rethink, to question. This year has forced us to rethink and question. John points us towards Jesus.
Remember what happened to Jesus in the wilderness? He was tempted.
Tempted to abuse power, tempted to control others, to put his own needs before his duty to the Father.
Tempted in the wilderness, Jesus chooses the path of service, the path of duty. As we prepare for Christmas, we too are being called out of a wilderness year. Out of a time where, rather than locusts and wild honey, we may have experienced worry, doubt, all sorts of mental anguish. A time where personal or family plans have been upended, where jobs may been lost, where those of us with relatives overseas may be living with fear for them.
Coming out of this wilderness, each of us needs to look at the choices we may have. What does the straight path, the highway of service and duty look like for us? Can we recognise a message of hope in our lives, in our families, in our society?
Pope Francis, and other wise people, have urged us not just to return to what our society was like before the pandemic, but to take this chance to take new paths. John urges us to repent - I recently heard repentance defined as ‘changing the places where we seek for happiness’. Maybe the pandemic has made us all question where we have sought happiness in the past, and whether that has worked for us, for the world. May
we all, with God’s help, search for a highway of hope, a path to a more just and peaceful world.
6 Dec 2020
Dcn Jim Curtain