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What does ‘The Lord of the Rings’ have to do with Advent?

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J-P Mauro - published on 12/16/23

Catholic singe/songwriter Matt Maher brings vivid visualization to the works of John the Baptist in Mark 1:2, using 'The Lord of the Rings,' no less.
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To celebrate the season of Christmas and accompany his fans through Advent, Catholic singer/songwriter Matt Maher has been reflecting on the Gospel readings for each week of Advent. In his first reflection, he drew on his experiences as a father to better understand his relationship to God. This time, however, Maher brings vivid visualization to the works of St. John the Baptist, using The Lord of the Rings, no less. 

As with the first reflection, Maher began by reading the Gospel passage for the 2nd Sunday of Advent: 

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.’”
John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.* He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:2 – From USCCB

Maher takes no time before outing himself as “a bit of a movie nerd,” noting that he’s a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He recalls a moment in the third film, The Return of the King, in which Gandalf and Pippin go to the steward of Gondor to try and convince him to light the beacons that would call for aid from Rohan, a neighboring kingdom of men in Middle Earth.

At the time, Gondor is on the brink of invasion by the orc armies of Mordor, and Rohan is the only nation near enough to lend aid. The problem, as Maher notes, is that “there’s all this pride of men going back and forth.” Although Rohan and Gondor had historical ties, over the years perceived slights had blinded each of them to their allies. Eventually, Gandalf and Pippin are forced to sneak up to the first beacon and light it themselves in order to start a chain reaction that will summon the Riders of Rohan.

“Ever since I saw that scene, whenever it comes around to Advent and I hear the phrase ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,’ I think of it like someone’s lighting beacons, saying ‘We need help.’” 

Maher says this simple yet important phrase is not just a call to clean the house for company. He noted that a lot of times when we hear this phrase, we think of all the things that we can do, rather than “just celebrating the fact that He is coming.” He next turned his reflection towards ancient Rome: 

“When the Romans built roads in the time of Jesus, they would have to level mountains and fill in valleys to make roads, because they would have to make roads straight. So, when John was all of a sudden quoting Isaiah, there isn’t just this scriptural context that people are thinking of. There’s a visual image, even in the time of Jesus, that people are thinking of. Like ‘We have to clear. We have to make a path.’”

Maher says this is really how we prepare the way of the Lord: “We light a beacon and we make a clear path.” Most importantly we make room for God in our lives. Maher explained that just as John the Baptist knew that there was one coming who was greater than he was, we must accept the things that we cannot do and “rest on the things that we know that only He can do.” 

Follow Matt Maher on his YouTube channel to hear more weekly reflections in the season of Advent. 

AdventChristmasMatt MaherTolkien
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