I remember it like it was yesterday. My sister, Laurie, introduced me to Maria that beautiful fall day. I remember where I stood the moment we met, what she was wearing and how good her perfume smelled. I remember where we sat in Pitt Stadium for the football game against Miami. Or was it Florida? I don’t remember anything about the football game because I was pretty distracted. It was Saturday, October 17, 1981. Pitt, under head coach Jackie Sherrill, was on their way to a number one national ranking. The Panthers beat Florida State that day, 42-14. Dan Marino, our quarterback had a huge day. It was a special time for Pitt football. It was even more special for me because even in the midst of 55,112 there was only one person that mattered to me.
In this week’s Gospel, Saint Luke provides contextual details about an important biblical event. He does so by providing the details of its historical time and place. He also introduces a significant character who plays a major part in God’s plan of salvation.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:1-6
The Gospel writer places John the Baptist’s appearance in a historical context. He also points to the prophetic prediction of the event from Isaiah’s ancient text. Luke is making the point that something really important is happening. Keep in mind that the Jews had endured great trials for thousands of years. Now this unusual man arrives on the scene. John the Baptist's appearance is important because it prepares the way for something even greater.
Can you imagine some of the Jews saying, “I remember the first time I saw him. He looked so wild in his camel skin coming out of the Jordanian desert.” Now think about those who came to know “the salvation of God” when they met Jesus. Surely they could describe the details of that encounter.
Advent is our time of year to “prepare the way of the Lord”. One way we do this is in our remembrance of the historic event of the coming of the Christ child. In the present, we encounter the living Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is this unique joining of past and present that brings the true meaning of the Advent season to life. As I reminisce about meeting Maria over 34 years ago my heart warms to the love that I still have for her today. Our lives together have a history and a present. We also have a future.
In Advent you and I have the opportunity to reflect on history. At the same time we must seek to encounter Christ in a profound way in the present. In so doing we await the best possible future in the “Salvation of God.”