Dec 3, 2016

Advent: 2nd Sunday: "Prepare His way!"

"A voice of one crying out in the desert."

Is 11: 1-10
Rm 15: 4-9
Mt 3: 1-12

“Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” or so said the town crier as he strolled down the street and rang his bell calling all to attention. For those who could read a public announcement was posted at some central location and all would eagerly gather to read the latest news of importance. Maybe it was an edict from the King or Martin Luther’s famed objections to the Catholic Church nailed to a Cathedral door.  Or closer to our own time the days when newspaper headlines were displayed on newsstands or in public windows to announce some late-breaking news.  Today, it’s just a turn of the television, the read of a text on your cell phone, or a browse on the endless internet websites to be informed.  However we hear what is of importance we always have a reaction that calls us to action.

In the time of Jesus, it was primarily the spoken word, oral tradition that passed on the latest information. Because the literacy rate was so low people were eager to hear. The Gospel writers were accurate conveyors of the oral tradition passed on to them by the Apostles and the early Christian communities as they developed a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and cemented those memories in writing.  

So, on this Second Sunday of our Advent journey we hear “a voice crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord . . .” John the Baptist (the dipper)  preaches along the Jordan River, crying out to various groups of people such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, gathered along the river shore. 

His reputation, despite his unconventional and strange appearance in camel’s hair and his yummy food choice of grasshoppers and honey, was deeply charismatic.  In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, his message cuts to the truth: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  His warning to the Jewish elite makes one squirm.  He labels them a: brood of vipers (children of snakes!) who presumed to be above reproach due to their birth right as children of Abraham.

Obviously, John was far from politically correct and used these images of a “coming wrath” and the tree that does not bear good fruit “will be cut down and thrown into the fire” not to frighten people as much as to wake them up!  We may become settled and enamored by our complacency and a false sense of security and self-righteousness, that God slaps us on the cheek for our own good.  John knew his time was limited and he had a sense of some great person about to appear and he had a mission and a message to deliver. God is at work and we had better be ready or loose the whole point of his coming.

So, in the wilderness John preached.  And it may still be true today.  The wilderness of our day may not be a geographical location but more a pervasive attitude of indifference towards God.  One commentator once said that the danger today is not so much hostility towards religion, although we know how real that may be in some part, as it is simply indifference and the fact that many live as if there is no God, rarely if ever bringing the truth of his presence to mind or heart.  The casual attitude towards sin and evil today should be enough to wake us up and consider the ultimate consequences of a life detached from our Creator. 

The crisis of faith today has created a spiritual desert and I am often taken aback at such gatherings as funerals, baptisms, and weddings when it is evident that extended family members and friends who attend are either uncomfortable with religious ritual and its purpose or simply somewhat clueless as to how to pray or what to say even something as fundamental to Christianity as the Lord’s prayer. And that just reveals the deeper reality out there in the spiritual desert for many.  The parched land needs to hear the good news indeed.

Our first reading from Isaiah the prophet, about 600 years before the coming of Christ, speaks to such spiritual emptiness with a word of hope. “On that day, a short shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”  What may seem small and nearly lifeless will, through the intercession of God, bring about greatness.  This savior will be verified by the nations, peace will prevail, natural enemies will reconcile and even the Gentiles will come to acknowledge this “signal” for the nations.  It is, then, John the Baptist, who appeals to our deepest hunger for wholeness and peace, to prepare the way for that person who is imminent. 

He is the one who will bring baptism in “the Holy Spirit and in fire” and bring about mighty change in the history of humankind.  Not by means of violence and fear but by the power of God’s mercy, love, forgiveness and reconciliation.  In order that we too might be ready to receive him, we must identify what may be keeping us from making his path straight for we can be an integral part of personal conversion and repentance.

Change in our lives as individuals, which comes about only through embracing the person of Jesus, and change in the whole of society is a more challenging event indeed. Still, we need such perspective in our busy, often distracted lives. So, we begin with ourselves. 

It brings us to the heart of the matter.  That this is no ordinary child whose birth we prepare for each year.  It is a graced time as we journey through Advent to basically get our spiritual and moral lives in order so that we may welcome the Christ born for us.

We welcome him in the Holy Eucharist, in the power of his sacred Word, in the faith we share, in the mercy he extends to us despite the sin we find in ourselves, in the many opportunities that come our way to serve selflessly in his name. Pope Benedict XVI once said that our Catholic tradition is not so much street corner evangelization or house to house visiting but rather to create a community of attraction that those who visit find the Church attractive enough to take a look, to come home, to bring about a change of heart and life. But, we must begin with ourselves first and find the desert in our own lives that needs to hear that voice.  

Prepare your way for the Lord!

Almighty and merciful God, 
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son, 
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company. 
Who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Opening Prayer for Sunday Mass)