A CALL TO CHANGE
God wants to get involved in us
St Luke begins this chapter of his Gospel curiously.
He puts out a list of names and places that seem pretty irrelevant.
Twenty centuries after the fact, we are interested in Jesus, not in tetrarchs and obsolete geography.
But these details reveal something crucial about Jesus: he is not an abstract God.
· He weaves his action and presence into the fabric of ours.
· He is not a myth.
· He takes up his stance on the crossroads of everyone’s personal history and addresses us there.
· Jesus Christ is a God who wants to be involved in our lives; he wants our friendship.
Getting better at finding God’s presence
We all believe that God wants to be involved in our lives.
And yet, sometimes it feels as if he is pretty far away.
Sometimes, in the face of economic difficulties, sickness, and so many other kinds of suffering, it seems hard to find him.
But we can actually get better at finding God’s hand in all things, even our crosses, if we do three things.
First, we need to have an honest, regular prayer life.
· Too often we only pray to God when we are in trouble.
· We need to recommit ourselves to daily, personal prayer, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes.
· If we learn to converse with God every day, we will be much more likely to hear his voice on the terrible days.
Second, we need to take the crucifix seriously.
· It is no coincidence that the crucifix is the central image of our religion.
· God chose to save us by sharing in human suffering.
· We need to look often at the crucifix, and contemplate it, and teach ourselves to remember that suffering is not outside of God’s plan of salvation, but an essential part of it.
And third, we need to help others carry their crosses.
· The devil’s favorite tactic is to make us think so much about ourselves that we lose sight of the bigger picture.
· When we go out of our comfort zone to support, console, and encourage those who are suffering even more than we are, we break the devil’s spell.
This week, if each of us chooses just one of those three tactics, I can guarantee that we will all gather again for Mass next week having had a deeper experience of God’s involvement in our lives.
And along with that experience will come a bigger share of Advent joy.
A GOOD WORK IS UNDERWAY
Advent is a time of penance and conversion, but is also characterized by Messianic hope: our penance and conversion reflect a good work that is already underway, a good work that is about to experience a boost and a means to bear fruit in the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. As St. Paul describes it in today’s Second Reading: “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Our Lord enables us to definitively leave our sinful past and ways behind, and that is a cause for joyful hope.
In today’s First Reading Baruch reminds Israel that the Lord is coming to help smooth the way so that they can return to Jerusalem in triumph.
· The Lord had taken Israel from being a nomadic people wandering in the desert (Abraham) to the Chosen People in the Promised Land, a nation. Their sins drove them into exile and scattered them again, and refugees don’t have the luxury of dressing in their “Sunday best.”
· Baruch encourages Israel to foresee the moment when they’ll cast aside the rags of their affliction and dress in their “Sunday best” because the Lord is bringing them back to Jerusalem.
· The peaks and valleys that make any journey more difficult will be leveled to pave the way for a people that were once exiled and defeated, but now are victorious thanks to the Lord.
· Even as they were exiled, the Lord promised through his prophets to bring them out of the desert and back into their Land again. Salvation was underway even then.
· Advent reminds us that salvation is underway and has been from all eternity, culminating in the Incarnation and Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that the good work in us, a work we are trying to capitalize on in Advent, wasn’t started by us, but it can be finished by us, for good or for ill.
· The Lord from all eternity wanted us to be gathered around his Son before him in Heaven. Adam, Eve, then we blew it.
· Our Lord came to deliver us from our predicament, but the Holy Spirit was working in our hearts long before that, nudging us toward contrition and conversion for our sins, trying to get us disposed so that the good work could get back on track (in Christ) after we’d derailed it (through our sins).
· We received the grace of redemption at Baptism; Paul encourages us today to trust in Our Lord and trust that the good work of redemption will reach its completion thanks to him. Our redemption is underway. It’s not finished yet.
· Paul also reminds us that the work of redemption is a work of God’s love: it wants to spark something in us, a love that burns all secondary and disordered loves away. Through that good work the Lord’s love reaches out to us, and, straining toward his, our love reaches out to him.
· His love reached out to us first, and it continued to reach out to us after we’d sinned and continues to reach out to us whenever we reject it by sinning.
In today’s Gospel John the Baptist is mobilized to get the word out that the Lord is coming to lead anyone to salvation who wants it.
· Today’s Gospel said the “word of God” came to him, something prophetic. God addresses his word to his prophet to set something good into motion.
· At that moment, just as in Advent, the good work was simply an announcement: the Lord is coming, get ready.
· The way to get ready was to receive John’s baptism (a gesture of repentance, not the Baptism we’ve received that was instituted by Christ) and seek forgiveness for our sins.
· We could never extricate ourselves from the consequences of our sins alone: John is announcing that the Lord will pave the way for our forgiveness and our conversion.
· The Lord is coming within reach. We need to start reaching out to him during Advent.
PREPARING THE WAY FOR THE LORD
Great personages announce their official visits ahead of time.
This provides people with an opportunity to prepare for the visit, so as to be able to be ready for it.
· When the president of a country goes somewhere on an official visit, a whole team of security personnel, media workers, and diplomats goes in ahead of time, getting everything ready.
· The same thing happens when the pope makes an official pastoral visit.
· We do the same thing when we have an important guest coming over for dinner.
· We want the visit to go well; we don’t want our guest to be neglected or saddened by a cold or sloppy welcome.
That’s exactly what’s happening in today’s Gospel passage.
John the Baptist is Christ’s precursor, the one sent to announce his coming and get people ready to welcome him.
John the Baptist plays a central role in our Advent liturgy, because this is the season during which the Church
· recalls Christ’s first coming,
· readies itself to welcome him at his new, spiritual coming this Christmas,
· and looks forward to his definitive, second coming at the end of history.
The word “Advent” actually originates from the Latin term for “coming towards.”
Jesus is “coming towards” us in a new way this Christmas, and the message of John the Baptist is meant to help us get ready.
Luke emphasizes the incomparable importance of Christ’s coming by pointing out how the Old Testament had prophesied not only the arrival of Jesus, but even the appearance of the precursor, John.
And that prophecy, which summarizes John’s message, offers us two lessons.
WHAT WE SHOULD DO
First it tells us what to do in order to get ready for Christ’s comings in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
We are to “prepare the way,” filling in valleys, leveling hills, straightening crooked roads, and smoothing out rough paths.
· The imagery comes from a typical scene in the ancient world (before concrete and asphalt highways).
· When a king or emperor made the rounds of his territories, his officials would travel ahead of him, making sure that the roads were safe and in good condition (roads were notoriously unreliable in Isaiah’s time, long before the establishment and spread of the Roman Empire).
· This assured that he wouldn’t be delayed and would be less vulnerable to enemy ambushes.
Likewise, we are called to examine our own souls on a regular basis, especially in this joyful but penitential season of Advent.
· We need to take some time to step away from the noise, from the hustle and bustle of our busy world.
· We need to look into hearts, to see where selfishness has put obstacles in our relationships with God and with other people.
· We need to see where habits of laziness and self-indulgence have worn away our self-discipline.
· All of us need to fill in some spiritual potholes and clear away some unwelcome debris, so that the graces God has in store for us this Advent will be able to stream unhindered into our hearts.
The heart is the road God wants to follow so as to come into and transform our lives; it is up to us to do the necessary repairs to allow that to happen.
There is no better first step for doing that, of course, then preparing and making a good confession.
WHY WE SHOULD DO IT
Second, Isaiah tells us why we should prepare our hearts for Christ’s comings.
He writes: “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
· This is a beautiful reminder that we, meaning both the entire human family and each of us individually, need God’s grace.
· The peace, meaning, and joy that we thirst for above all else is out of our sinful reach.
· We need someone to bring it to us, to search us out in this desert of our earthly exile and give us the waters of eternal life.
We need a Savior.
· If we didn’t need a Savior, if we were able to give ourselves the meaning and fulfillment we yearn for, then Jesus Christ would never have had to come to earth.
· God would not have had to invent Christmas.
· We would not need Advent – in fact, we wouldn’t need religion at all.
But the fact is that we do.
· This fallen world, and our fallen human nature, has been poisoned by sin, and only God has the antidote: grace.
· Jesus is always coming into our lives with his saving grace, just as he came so dramatically at the first Christmas two thousand years ago.
· He always wants to bring us closer to God, closer to the fullness of life that we long for.
But he won’t force his way in – he respects us too much to do that.
And that’s why we need to prepare our hearts to welcome him.
INTRODUCTION: Most of us hate or dislike corrupted society, bad roads, immoral leaders of the church or society, etc.… Rarely one realizes the evils within self. Today’s gospel is about putting our house in order. Repentance= Shub (Hebrew) = U-Turn. The three persons in the three readings indicate three different mission of conversion.
1. Baruch: The prophet is found only in Catholic Bible. He invites people in exile to get back to God who will be their joy of Salvation!
2. Paul: A passionate persecutor of Christians became a passionate partner in Christ for Christians.
3. John the Baptist: After inviting others to set their houses in order, he sets his own house in order before his death. (Are you the one…?)
Final Punch: Several saints had U –Turns. Several saints helped others to have U-Turns. Shub in Hebrew means ‘good’ in Sanskrit (Shubham)
The second Sunday of Advent brings to us the invitation to “change”. Calling each one of us ‘for a new situation.’ If we pay close attention this morning to the liturgy, it is going to make s aware that we need to change. A change is going to take place and we are called to make that change. For this change; we need to reflect and repent. Let us do this as we begin our Holy Eucharist.
For change to take place we need to ‘bid farewell to lame excuses’.
Once in a camp, 9 soldiers received overnight passes. In the morning none of them were present, they all came in late.
The first one said this to the officer: I am sorry, I had a date, lost track of time, missed the last bus. Wanted to come back and so took a taxi, half way through the car broke down, then brought a horse. The horse suddenly fell to the ground and died, so had to come walking all the way.
The second to the eighth all gave the same excuse.
The ninth soldier had this to say: date and so lost track of time, missed the last bus, hired a taxi, …. The officer stopped him and said ‘wait a minute, are you going to tell me the cab broke down? No sir, the taxi was fine, problem was there were so many dead horses on the road and so couldn’t get through!!!
Excuses are as old as the human race.
Today John the Baptist reminds us not to make lame excuses, but to repent and renew our lives, so that we will be able to receive the Messiah in our hearts and lives.
The readings today invites us to do this: call to change and make the change. Change we can.
John the Baptist is shouting and crying out in the DESERT. He is asking and calling people to change their ways (not cosmetic make over) but completely (metanoia). To stop going in our own direction and move towards God.
Desert is a place where nothing happens, could be lost too. However, biblically a rich symbol. Desert important role for the Jews- an escape route for Egyptians slavery. God spoke, revealed his name and led them to the promise land. For all this preparation was needed.
Today John the Baptist is crying out to me and you.
Are we able to hear the voice of John the Baptist [our conscience], calling for a U turn in our lives. A call to change in life style. A call to repentance. Or are we deaf to his cries.
John the Baptist directs our gaze to the topography of our own lives:
- Where are the valleys [of discouragement, frustration], of empty places that the coming of Jesus can fill them.
- What are the mountains [ego, pride], our feeling of being important, our pride. To make them low, so that we are able to come low to meet the Lord, who comes to be with us.
- What is crooked in our life; our habits, sins, addiction, shady life, not on the right track; to give them up and to walk straight in life and in the light of Christ.
- Are there any rough edges in our lives; that make people uncomfortable in our presence, so that we can smoothen them with the gentleness and patience of jesus Christ.
We need to fill the valleys of our souls; with prayers and good works. Need to straighten out whatever crooked paths and from sinful relationships. We need to give up grudges, hatred and clear our debris, level the mountains of our pride and ego centrism.
For all this we need to seek Jesus.
Are we afraid to cut down, fill up, straighten up or smoothen out?
We should not be afraid:
- Baruch: assure the people in exile and captivity and who are in sorrow and death, to put on a new cloak of Justice and God’s glory. Remove all that hinders us, high mountains, fill valleys… so that the people can walk safely in God’s glory. For God will guide his people.
- Paul: in his prayer says; Confident that God who has given us life in Him will make sure all is completed.
· Thus the cries of John the Baptist do not become a threat but an eager and joyful invitation to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus Christ now and always.
· God wants to come closer to his people always and to be with us.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.