What do people think about when they think of the days before Christmas? Perhaps it is Shopping, Christmas parties, Decorating the house and garden with lights, cooking, Random-breath testing, the incredible cost of Christmas and the holidays, perhaps it is Christmas Cake and maybe cricket. But as you all know, Advent is a month for preparing for Christmas, preparing for the Coming of the Lord into our world.
Today’s readings remind us that when we allow the Spirit of God to govern and guide us, we will be able to live lives of integrity and prepare the way for the Lord's second coming.
In today’s gospel, John the Baptizer, when confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees, urged them to reform their lives so as to recognize and accept the promised messiah. John’s preaching was a call to repentance, conversion and renewal. He told these people - who were filled with expectation that the Messiah was near - to act with justice and charity, letting their lives reflect the transformation that would occur when the messiah would enter their lives and enter into the world. In the same way, as we prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas, John advises us to "prepare the way of the Lord."
But how do we prepare for the kingdom of heaven. How do we prepare the way of the Lord?
While only two gospels mention the story of the nativity, all the four Gospels introduce Jesus with an account of John the Baptist's ministry (Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-22; John 1:6-9). Matthew, in today’s Gospel, puts slightly greater emphasis on John's words than on his action of baptizing. Matthew gives us a direct quote from John’s preaching: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
When John the Baptist was preaching, there had been no prophet in
Call to repentance:
John's message was not soothing. It cut into the very hearts of men. The Greek philosopher Diogenes once said, "He who never offends anyone, never does anyone any good." John denounced evil wherever he found it. He accused Herod of loose moral life (14:4), addressed the Scribes and the Pharisees as "brood of vipers" and summoned people to righteousness. Sometimes the message of Christ can offend people – the good news calls people to change their lives.
Literally the Greek word for repentance (metanoeo) means, "to change one's mind." Repentance involves turning around, facing in a new direction, a change of heart, a new commitment, walking in a different direction. Repentance is a daily experience that renews our baptism. “The repentant person comes before God saying, "I can't do it myself, God. Let me die and give me new life.” At Baptism we died to ourselves and rose again. The repentant person asks the Lord to renew our baptism, giving us death, burial and resurrection to new life." Repentance for us is not a one-time action we do at our First Confession, nor is it an action that we do only until our first Communion or Confirmation, but we must repent daily, because preparing for the Lord is a perpetual task.
A call for a change of life.
John the Baptist, the stern and uncompromising preacher, challenges our superficial attempts at change, demanding that we take a deeper look at ourselves. Obeying the commandments and the beatitudes is a good start, but we must also examine our relationships with others. We must mend divisions and conflicts, face family responsibilities, work honestly, and treat employees justly. John the Baptist tells us to start where we are: He tells us to “Come as we are” – bringing with us our personal stories and histories. Our domestic and social lives must be put in order if we are to be repentant. Reconciliation does not only mean saying “sorry” but it means making a change – going in a different direction.
John's voice is sober and runs counter to the intoxicating voices around us today. He calls for integrity and social consciousness. We must abandon our selfish thirst for consumption, and instead, be filled with the expectation of Jesus' coming.
An Advent project is to be alert and watchful in the spirit of today’s gospel. Every morning when you get up, pray, “Lord, show me someone today with whom I may share your love, mercy and forgiveness.” Blessed Mother Teresa of
Advent is the time for this preparation, by repenting of our sins, renewing our lives by prayer, penance, preparing the way for the Lord, and sharing our blessings with others. Let us remember the words of Alexander Pope: "What does it profit me if Jesus is reborn in thousands of cribs all over the world and not reborn in my heart”? It means that Jesus must be reborn in our hearts, during this season of Advent, and every day of our lives. Jesus is to be reborn as love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and the spirit of humble service.
Following John's advice, let us celebrate the memory of this first advent, prepare for Jesus’ second advent in our daily lives, and wait for his glorious advent at the end of the world.