Prophets have been preparing us for Christ’s coming for centuries, as we see in this Sunday’s readings. In our gospel passage (Lk 3:1-6), Luke tells how John the Baptist fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of a voice 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.”
This echoes our first reading from an earlier prophet, Baruch (Bar 5:1-9), who was also a scribe for the prophet Jeremiah. Just like John the Baptist, Baruch focused on humanity’s sinfulness and our need to reach out for God to take our hand and lead us out of slavery.
“For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”
Why does God need all this excavation? He doesn’t, we do. We are being called to remove the impediments between us and Him so we can rise to his Kingdom. After all, humanity put those obstacles there in the first place. Eliminating them is a hard job because we often use those impediments as hiding places for our guilt. God knows our favorite burial grounds, though, and it’s up to us to dig ourselves out so we can focus on dissolving the chains of blame weighing our souls down.
In our second reading (Phil 1:4-6, 8-11), Paul prays that the Philippians be able to “discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness.”
He is telling us to free our spirits to claim our divine destiny. If this calling to shake loose of our shackles sounds familiar, it might be because of the words of a more contemporary prophet whose work is widely quoted at this time of year:
“I wear the chain I forged in life! I made it link by link and yard by yard! I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it!”
This is the voice of Charles Dickens speaking through the doomed spirit of Jacob Marley as he addresses the Scrooge in all of his readers who are shackled by their selfish deeds and desires and hiding in the caves we’ve dug into the valley walls at the bottom of the mountains separating us from God’s love. “A Christmas Carol” is not just a beloved work of seasonal fiction, but a modern parable as applicable to today’s spirits tethered to Smart Phones as it was to the mercenary souls Dickens sought to free from the 19th century’s phony gods.
The spirit of Dickens, as well as John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Baruch and all of Christ’s disciples can still be heard through the voices of 20th and 21st century prophets. Many of these modern voices may not sound as erudite as their ancient forbears, but one in particular made short work of explaining the first step in the divine excavation necessary to build a straight path to God:
If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.