Two little Martian creatures landed their spaceship near a rural Nebraska road in the middle of a cold and dark night. “Where are we?” asked the one. “I think we're in a cemetery,” said the other. “I see a marker over here. It says...oh, this human lived to be 100!” “Amazing,” said the first. “Does it give the person's name?” The other Martian leaned closer to see the marker better and then replied, “Miles, from Omaha!”
At times we may feel as did these Martians – far from home on our life's journey, in a cold, dark place without familiar landmarks. Sometimes the dark, unfamiliar place is in our head. We have this feeling of being lost, wondering what we're doing with our lives, and why we're even on the journey. It's a very sad and lonely feeling. Sometimes the cold, dark place is all around us, and we find ourselves outside the circle of love and belonging, wanting to get inside but not knowing how. That too is a sad and lonely feeling. We might even identify with the wild, solitary and somewhat bizarre figure of John the Baptist in today's Gospel, roaming through the desert wilderness.
We know in our hearts how life is supposed to be. There is an instinctual feeling within us that tells us we are meant to belong, to love and be loved, to be family. It's human nature. It's how God made us. We need to be where there are no strangers, no creatures from Mars, where everyone knows us and enjoys our company, where we can experience God's loving presence within and among us.
So how do we get from cold, lonely darkness to warm, bright light? From being wounded to becoming whole? From being strangers to being family? The answer is found in today's Scripture, written a long time ago when the Hebrew people were experiencing a prolonged exile far from their beloved homeland. The answer is twofold: Step number one: keep the dream alive and don't lose hope. There's always the temptation to despair. Yes, our life journeys may be difficult and burdensome, at times almost overwhelmingly so. But God promises to level the mountains and straighten the roads upon which we travel. Step number 2: place ourselves totally in God's hands, removing our masks and dropping our masquerades, letting God embrace us fully and warmly just as we are. In God's loving embrace, we find not simply God but we find everyone and everything simultaneously. We find we belong. We find we are family.
This is God's promise not just to the exiled Hebrew people of long, long ago, but to each and all of us today. Our task is to not lose hope, to keep the dream alive, to rejoice that we have a God who loves us without condition. Perhaps we too should pray and sing the words and melody of the Hebrew psalmist who composed Psalm 126 of today's Liturgy:
Response: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”
“It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion's exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn't believe our good fortune. R/ We were the “talk of the town.” People said, 'God was wonderful to them.' God indeed was wonderful to us; we are one, happy people. R/ Now, God, do it again! Bring rain to our drought-stricken lives, so those who planted crops in despair can shout hurrahs at the harvest. R/ So those who were driven away with heavy hearts can come home laughing with their arms abundantly full.” R/ (R/ means repeat the Response.)