1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tibe′ri-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae′a and Trachoni′tis, and Lysa′ni-as tetrarch of Abile′ne, 2 in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca′iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari′ah in the wilderness; 3 and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3.1-6)
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1.3-11)
You may count it strange that, based on that passage that is filled with the vocabulary of confidence, I choose to talk about questioning.
I do so in the spirit of St. John thee Forerunner. We might otherwise name him “St. John the Questioner.”
Advent is about questioning. Asking the questions that faith requires us to ask. It is about living in questions. There are two ways to do this. We can live in “the question” because we doubt or we can live in the question because we trust.
Origen put forward a question:
“…let us see whether the following prophecy concerning the coming of Christ has been fulfilled… ‘The crooked shall be made straight.’”
We ask this not in the usual sense of measurement and a desire for the assurance of progress. We ask it not because we doubt in the faithless sense or need some assurance to bolster ourselves up. We ask it out of the faithful “nevertheless.”
No. We ask it out of a completely different paradigm of faith confession – confidence.
We ask it in the sense of proclamation. We ask it because we believe. We ask it for the purpose of being able to answer it with our unceasing “YES!!”
And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2.1-10)
Origen said, in his commentary on St. Luke’s gospel:
“…let us see whether the following prophecy concerning the coming of Christ has been fulfilled. In fact the text continues: “The crooked shall be made straight”. Each one of us was crooked– at least, if it concerns what we used to be formerly and not what we still are today – and the coming of Christ, which has taken place even in our souls, has set to rights all that was crooked…
“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 4.1)
Let us pray that his coming may be fulfilled in us each day and that we may be able to say: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2.20).
It is in the region of the desert, the crooked places, the valleys, the insurmountable mountains that our voice of confident, faithful questioning must be heard. The place of impossibility is, according to the gospel, the place of authentic possibility:
“Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.’ Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1.34-38)
This is the testimony of those who have acquired the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Peace. Indeed, Zechariah was told by the angel, that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1.15). The place of questioning is not the purview of the Forerunner alone. It is the “Treasured Way” of the Theotokos as our text shows.
So John, who was courageous enough to ask the question(s) of his life that discipleship required, along with Mary who did the same, are living examples of the way we are to live our lives.
And, as St. Seraphim of Sarov said:
“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”