The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him”.
To prepare the way means to pray well; it means thinking humbly of oneself. We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.
If he had said, “I am the Christ”, you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself. He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.
Not my words, but those of one of the greats in the Christian tradition – Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in Roman North Africa preaching in the fifth century of the Common Era.
They always lead me to reflect that we are essentially humble strangers, not pilgrims on our journey through this life. If we have 70 or 80 years what are those years except building blocks for those who come after us and who may go on to do far greater things? That in essence was the life and task of The Baptiser – to be a humble, if vociferous, stranger.
One of the prolific writers and preachers of the last century, Bishop Richard Holloway, reflected on the building of a future as strangers at the end of his Looking in the Distance:
When the map of our life is complete, and we die in the richness of our own history, some among the living will miss us for a while, but the earth will go on without us. Its day is longer than ours, though we now know that it too will die. Our brief finitude is but a beautiful spark in the vast darkness of space. So we should live the fleeting day with passion and, when the night comes, depart from it with grace.
There is a remorseless, almost hopeless and atheistic sadness underlying this kind of writing; but perhaps there is also something of the reality of some of the human experience of being alive and then dying?