Enter John the Baptist. He was the intersection between the old and the new covenant, ending one and introducing the other. Remember in Mathematics, the theory of intersection where two sets A and B meet. The intersection contains all the elements of A that also belong to B but no other elements. If that sounds too technical, picture the point of intersection in our streets. The reason we have stop signs or traffic lights in the intersections is to ensure that we exercise due diligence about the flow of traffic. Without traffic rules, and where no traffic lights and stops exist, there’s certainly utmost chaos. Impatient and rude people will run into each other and the flow of traffic will be stalled for hours. In the divine economy, John the Baptist was sent as a traffic-light or stop-sign for God’s people, to ensure that the passage from old to new covenant was smooth. God was the chief traffic controller, but John would stand as the sign, the voice, and the indicator showing us where the Controller wants us to go. In that way, he was to make the traffic efficient for the coming of the Messiah. We call John the Baptist, the precursor of the Emmanuel prophesied for ages by the prophets. He brings today a message of reform. With prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading, he enjoins us to flatten the hills, fill up broken precipices and straighten the ways twisted with curves. Ignoring the words of John the Baptist tantamount to running a red light and putting one’s spiritual life in grave danger.
Prior to the pandemic that slowed air travel, stats had it that at any given time, an average of 9,728 planes carrying about 1.3 million people are in the US air space; yet they do not collide. Airplanes hardly collide mid-air because pilots depend on air traffic controllers who expeditiously separate planes by ensuring that they are going different directions at different altitudes. Those flying the same direction receive the instruction to keep the same speed. If you’re shown a radar screen of air traffic around Chicago O’Hare between 6 to 7am when traffic is heaviest, you’ll see eastbound planes at certain altitudes and west and northbound planes at another. Though modern planes have transponders that alert them to the proximity of other planes, pilots hardly know their exact location. Imagine what would result if pilots ignore the traffic control and go any direction they wish. If you can, then you’ve got the real sense of the consequences of sin and disobedience. The spiritual landscape is equivalent to air traffic. In the spiritual world, not only do we lack proper vision of the dangers that lie in the horizon, we have an enemy whose sworn project is to ensure our destruction by convincing us to ignore the traffic controller. When that is the case, we run a great risk of colliding with the spiritual forces of darkness. Yet, with renewed urgency, modern society is convincing us to follow our feelings and desires, and ignore the traffic controller of our soul. That is how we got to the modern loss of the sense of sin.
St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI often lamented this loss of the sense of sin, especially in Western society. The victim status appears to be the prevailing moral attitude to which a great many in the society have succumbed. The victim status allows the moral agent to blame outside forces for every ill and refuse to take responsibility for individual moral choices. This explains the quagmire we face about the coming of Christ. His name Jesus was given to Him “because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). But how can He save them if they do not acknowledge their sinfulness? Where there is loss of the sense of sin, the work of salvation brought by Christ turns into meaningless ritual. It’s no surprise then that Advent is no longer observed as a penitential season. The only preparation that many do for Christmas is buying gifts and putting out decorations. By the time Christmas comes, they’ve got tired of it and will start putting away the decorations. Life becomes an endless cycle of celebration of our base instincts. But if we examine our personal and collective consciences, we won’t fail to see how much there is in our lives that needs saving, and the intervention of the Emmanuel. Listen to the Voice!
Fr. Jo Chukwudi Okonkwo