Today and next Sunday, we encounter the person of St. John the Baptist. He is a powerful servant of God. His words are timeless. The Liturgy of Advent puts his mission and message before us for our reflection. The Baptist helps us to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and indeed the actual purpose of our lives. We need to hear this. For many, Christmas is a time of excess. A visitor from another planet may think we worship flashing lights, tinsel and trees. We are called as Christians to the things that matter, the things that endure: love, compassion, selflessness, justice and faithfulness. The world’s version of Christmas puts us under pressure. We feel we need more time. We inadvertently forget a gift for so and so or to send him/her a card. No matter how long we prepare, Christmas seems to come too soon! Sometimes, sadly, we hear people say, “I wish it was all over”. Advent will, if we allow it, take us off the treadmill and give us space, guidance and focus. Advent is supremely a time of hope. How do we get it? By exercising it. This hope is rooted in the coming of Jesus first as the Incarnation and finally at the end of the age. The Baptist points us away from the brief pleasures of the world to the enduring gift of faith and the treasure of His Kingdom. How does John help us?
John invites us to go to the desert. To stop, stand back and to give some serious thought to life. We aim as the Christian community to come to a greater realization of God’s love for us and His plan for our lives; to know His will and act accordingly. The desert for the Jews was the place in which they fell in love with their God. It was there they learned faithfulness and total dependence upon Him. Israel found its singular vocation in the wilderness to be God’s invitation of life to all peoples. They Became the People of God on the journey to the Promised Land and wanted others to join them. The people learned to travel light and unencumbered. Importantly, Israel were able to identify the false gods and idols and ignore them in showing single minded faithfulness to the Lord their God. This must also be true of Christ’s followers. John the Baptist invites us to rediscover our desert spirituality and the personal insights it evokes in us. We Prepare the way of the Lord by discerning critically any attitudes, weaknesses or false material values that have found a home in us taking up the space that belongs to God? In Our Lord’s day, kings prepared for the visit from another king by straightening the road to facilitate their visitors journey. Obstacles would be cleared, holes filled in. These actions made the visiting king feel appreciated and given due honour. Can we not do the same for Christ our Infant King? The Baptist insists we do.
We must allow the Holy Spirit, God’s Word and the grace of the sacraments to help us. Unaided we cannot change. We are called to repentance. This is not just sorrow for our sins, but a call to a radical change of life. This requires honesty on our part for we need to make some bespoke alterations particular to each of us. An example I find useful is my first computer. I would put a lino cut image from the Gospel on my bulletin. It would ask me did I want to change the image to fit the frame or the frame to fit the image. It was more hassle and complicated for me to adjust the frame. The temptation was to put the image in the standard frame provided from the previous week. The problem was this lazy solution always distorted the image to a greater or lesser extent. The Baptist warns us not to choose the easy route and ask God’s will to conform to how we want things to be – the preferred frame of our lives. We fight a little battle from time to time and ask God in our personal prayers of petition to change His will and allow our wishes to prevail. When Jesus comes to us, it must be into lives that will co-operate and not dictate to His Loving Presence; into lives as He wants us to be. Mary accepted the Divine Plan as it was, and she gladly set aside her plans humbly accepting how it had to be and in this found great joy.
John invites us to keep it simple. He stressed this by his humble lifestyle. His life lacked any luxury. John was utterly focused on the will of God to the exclusion of worldly appetites. As he said of the Lord: “He must increase, I must decrease”. In order to have a firm hold on God one must let go of oneself. A delivery driver was complaining and shouting that he was being delayed because his lorry was stuck under a low bridge by just few inches. A driver in the queue got out of his car and let down his tyres sufficiently for the lorry to be released and go on its way. The Baptist tells us some stuff has to be let out of our lives if we are to make progress. It may be pride, self- sufficiency, greed, being judgemental, indifference, despair, sadness, grief and so on. These things can only impede our lives and get in the way of the Lord as He comes to us.
Each of us, in the words of our Gospel today, is “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ” for someone else. This is our task in life. To introduce others to the Lord. We are their faith beginning and opportunity and it is important we get it right. Like John, we must be authentic and credible. John will make sure there is no contradiction in us witnesses as we welcome the child Jesus anew into our hearts. Let us accept anew our role as heralds of the Lord. To be truly prophetic. To point out humbly and lovingly the Lord in our midst, and Who daily comes anew into our lives in His way of love, service and compassion.
When the local council want to repair a road, they put up signs. We are told, if possible, when the work will take place and apologies for inconvenience are offered. We accept this, vital repairs, renewal of surfaces etc., are necessary for a better and safer road and we are prepared for the necessary bother. This Advent, let us put up a spiritual sign to the world. We as a people are standing back and doing some essential repair work. We will be all the better, fit for purpose, people from whom others will benefit. God willing, we will have no more spiritual/attitudinal potholes. The Lord’s path will be smooth and obstacle free.
A little girl was struggling with her sums and she went to her neighbour for help. She asked the elderly gentleman would he give her assistance. He was happy to do so. Her maths improved but when her parents found out they were embarrassed their little girl had bothered the man with her homework. The elderly man was Albert Einstein. He said that he thoroughly enjoyed sharing his knowledge with their little girl and was happy that she had asked him to help. He told the parents that teaching their daughter had re-earthed him in the joy of teaching. His life was so theoretical and speculative and as such a little dry and unsatisfying. He was reminded his greatest joy was to teach, and for that he was very grateful that the little girl had brought her thirst for knowledge to his door. Einstein’s brilliant, highly intelligent mind was refreshed by the simple sums of a little girl. Advent is opportunity knocking on our door. But it comes as teacher, we must listen and learn. Let its message enter into our hearts and story anew. May it help us all rediscover the greatest joy: Jesus is Lord of our past, our present and future. All that matters are His gifts to us. Let us be thankful to God for His blessings – gratitude is always the best place to start.
Fr. Gerard X