RELIGION: We too hope for happiness and peace in life


There is a passage in St Luke’s Gospel when speaking after hearing of the death of John the Baptist, Christ’s sense of humour emerges as he asks the people, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? No, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces.’ It begs the question why John should be in the wilderness in the first place. Why should it be from the wilderness that he began his ministry.

It was from the wilderness that John announced this great hope because it was in the wilderness that he found hope. He was saying not in fine palaces will you find your hope, not in the powers of this world will you find the hope you are looking for. The reason John carried out his mission in the wilderness was that he meant it to be a clear sign of his rejection of the hopes that society offered. Those who came to him in the wilderness to be Baptised must surely have realised that he was speaking to them about an alternative hope to the hopes of those who set the agenda for society. That was not to say that there is no hope to be found in the joys and blessings of this world, but John’s hope was of a different order; his vision of what was needed in the world was different from the vision of those he left behind in society. The difference is in what we hope for; that’s not to say that what we hope for as Christians is so completely different from those who have no hope beyond the joys of this life. We too hope for happiness and peace in life, we hope for love and family and friends, but we also hope for eternal life, and this makes a difference to how we go about life, not because we fear death or judgement, but because we realise that there are some things that are beyond our control; there are some things that are gifted to us from someone who loves us, some things come to us only because God chooses to give them to us out of love.

What difference does that make to how we live our lives? The wilderness John sought, living beyond the pale as he chose to do, meant that we have to conform our soul to reality and the way to do that was by doing the will of God, by listening to the Word of God, by self discipline and by living lives of virtue, living with integrity and honesty. Those who have abandoned God, whether proclaiming themselves agnostic or atheist, or those who in practice live their lives as if there were no God, end up following the path of subduing reality to what they want. For those who follow the way of society it is not we who must adapt to reality but reality that must adapt to our wishes. Now what was once regarded as sinful or evil has become a sign of freedom from all restraints. It is like saying, ‘not thy will but mine be done.’

John the Baptist’s call to us to go into the wilderness to be Baptised is a call to awaken and see the path on which society is set. It is a call to choose a different future for ourselves, one that is based not on our technological manipulation of everything without questioning its values or if it is morally right or wrong; it is being interested only in its usefulness to what we want. Those who choose to go out into the wilderness seek, a future that is built around the will of God as it is revealed in nature and in the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Advent is a time for us to re-examine where we looking to find our hope.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s and St Peter’s in Dumbarton.

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