Several weeks prior to Christmas shopping, stores have decorated their shop windows hoping to catch the eyes of their customers. They are promoting the Christmas Festive Season by calling people to do shopping, spend more. It is the way of a consumer society promoting the birth of Jesus. The Church is promoting the birth of Jesus in a different way. It is the old way; to renew the heart of a person; the way John the Baptist proposed. John went before Jesus preparing the way for his coming. John's way of conversion was old, but it is always fresh for a couple of reasons. First, what John shared was his personal wisdom gained from the wilderness experience. It came not from the head, but from the heart. Second, his wisdom was gained through his days in the wilderness where animals fight cruelly for prey and for survival. Life and death were interwoven. And third, his simplicity of life and humility were all for the Lord. John invited each member of his audience to do personal reflection by looking deep into one's own heart, and making changes accordingly to welcome the Messiah. John told the people, he was the voice in the wilderness, and his voice called each of us to look deep into the wilderness of our own heart, to get rid of all that is harmful to us, and what stops us from returning to the Lord. It is the voice that calls us to make wise choices from amongst voices of the world. John called us to remove the hills that block us coming to the Messiah, and the valleys that narrow our vision about God's love and mercy for the world. The invisible hills and valleys are within our minds and hearts. These are the blockages stopping us from reaching out to love God and having compassion for others. The invisible hills and valleys create the smoke screens, that twist our vision about the world and about others. They make us see the illusion of our vocation, not the real one. John saw his vocation clearly and lived out his vocation faithfully, because there were no invisible hills and valleys in his heart. His vocation was going before, paving the way for the Messiah to come. He was born before Jesus; he entered the wilderness before Jesus; he began his public ministry before Jesus; he baptised people in the Jordan river; he sent his disciples to Jesus; and finally he died before Jesus. He died a violent death, beheaded in prison.
We do draw up a shopping list at Christmas, buying gifts for others. Why not draw up a list of what we would like to change at Christmas, begging Jesus for the power to change; for the wisdom to make a right decision, and for the courage to overcome the mountain range in our own heart.
There is no better way to prepare for Christmas than by preparing our own heart. It is good for oneself, and it pleases Jesus because he came to the world to give us life. Navigating our life towards God would free us from life's heavy burden. John performed no miracle, and certainly was not a diplomatic character; his language was rough and tough, and yet people loved him, simply because he lived not for himself, but for the Lord. This alone made his name last forever.