Are you ready for a radical change of heart?

by May Tam

The Second Sunday of Advent shines a spotlight on John the Baptist. An unkempt, fearless figure who preached in the Judean desert, forcing people to accept the honest truth about themselves. The core of his cry is for people to repent and to reform their lives – metanoia – a radical change of heart. Matthew sees John as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (rf Mt 3:3). Isaiah's oracle was an announcement of good tidings to the Israelite exiles that God would visit them and make them return to their homeland (rf Is 40). John, in due respect, is the successor of Isaiah. He is the first to announce the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God in the midst of Israel's religious crisis (rf Mt 23:1-7, 13-36).

Though John was “strange” and his words were unwelcoming, both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were attracted to him (rf Mt 3:7). The crowds, even the tax collectors and the soldiers asked “What are we to do?” (Lk 3:10-14). Herod feared him, yet liked to listen to him (rf Mk 6:20). Why? Perhaps deep within each person, there is a yearn for truth, the truth about oneself. There is also a yearn for peace, prosperity and most of all love (rf Is 11:6). John's message, despite its harshness, inspires a joyful expectancy that God will visit His people to save them. This time, not through His chosen messengers like Zerubbabel, Ezra or Nehemiah (rf Hg 2:23, Ezr, Neh), but in the person of the Messiah, the Emmanuel, who came and dwelt among us, who so loved us and died for us.

Today there is no more a cry in the desert, only a small voice whispering in our hearts. Though small, yet powerful, hurrying us to make decision to turn back to God and to “produce good fruit as evidence of [our] repentance” (Mt 3:8). Let John's cry echoes far and wide beyond the Judean deserts; let his good tidings lighten us once more and let us, like those “in Jerusalem, all Judea and the region about the Jordan”, flock to his message and get ready for the coming of the Messiah (Mt 3:5).