Well, sometimes we can get tangled up in small distracting details, sort of like a “red herring” and miss the message. Let’s try this three-fold approach to listening to the text. First, listen to the text itself and the message it brings. Then look at people in your personal history who have acted similarly to those in the gospel passage (especially John the Baptist); and finally, silently look within your heart and prayerfully listen to how God is calling you to respond to this gospel.
The message of John the Baptist is clear enough. He is calling the people of his time to repent, to seek forgiveness of their sins. He also points forward to someone who is coming, thereby preparing the way for Jesus, who will bring the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers.
Now, let’s move to step two. Who in your past has been “John the Baptist” for you? Who has challenged you to change your ways, to seek forgiveness for your sins? Who has been your shepherd, leading you to Jesus? Notice the way this gospel starts out: “The beginning of the Good News...” Who was it that brought you the Good News about Jesus Christ, your Redeemer? God chooses to work through human instruments. Hopefully you have at some time expressed your gratitude to God for those who led you on the correct spiritual path.
Finally, what is God calling you to do? Every gospel message has an ethical demand. We’re all called to respond by spreading the Good News. So. Who have you led to Jesus, or who have you told about how Jesus has blessed your personal life? Have you planted any seeds lately? This period of Advent is a time for serious reflection, and perhaps remedial action.
The gospels were written by men who were among the first to have faith and wanted to share it with others. Have you continued this tradition, and trying to pass on your faith to others?