2nd Sunday of Advent        

            Certainly, Mother Theresa was one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time. According to some accounts, Mother Teresa’s religious congregation was given a mission house in New York City. The diocese had it spruced up with fresh coat of paint; they put in new carpeting; they put in a large water heater.

            On the day the bishop drove up to visit Mother Theresa and the newly arrived nuns, he was greeted by a pile of trash on the curb. They had torn out the new carpet and the water heater. Mother Theresa thanked the bishop but she never wavered in her conviction. If they are to serve the poor in the richest city in the richest country in the world then they must live simply. They prepared for their work by simplifying their lives. Their spiritual grounding depends upon their simplicity of life.

            The Advent message is: PREPARE! But it is not helpful if I just tell you to prepare. It is hard to know what proper preparation looks like until I see the lives of John the Baptist and Mother Teresa. They prepared themselves with simplicity. Any place and time that you and I simplify our lives, we open up room for God to move.

            Every second Sunday of Advent the Church gives us the figure of John the Baptist – the voice of Advent. He is the voice that points to the coming of the Lord Jesus. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” But our culture keeps leaving him out in our Christmas preparation. He is not included in any Christmas decoration. His message is not even mentioned in any Christmas greeting. I do not recall ever receiving a Christmas card with John the Baptist preaching in the desert. Do you? I have not seen or read a card whose front is marked by the dead, arid, barren desert of Judea with this animated, prophetic figure as the focal point, and written in bold letters is John’ call to repentance.

            There is a reason for that, of course: John the Baptist is totally inappropriate for the way we celebrate Christmas. We prefer a jolly Santa Claus at the shopping malls telling us to be merry than a serious-looking John the Baptist in the supposedly desert of our life telling us: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We do not see John having anything to do with a “Happy Christmas”.

            What does John the Baptist have to do with true Christmas? For Mark, everything. Instead of Bethlehem and choirs of angels, he begins the story of Jesus’ coming with a prophet blaring and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea. In so doing, he adds a new figure to the good news about the incarnation and coming of the Christ. It is John the Baptist.

            Advent calls us to genuine repentance and constant conversion – in order to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. The single, most important conversion we are called to make is this: moving from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. Kaya kung dati nakasentro ang isip natin sa sarili natin, ngayon, dahil sa conversion, dapat isentro na natin ito sa Diyos. If before our mind is preoccupied with getting things for ourselves, now it should be focused on doing things for God’s greater glory. If before our heart is beguiled by material things, now it should be captivated by gospel values. If before our life is highly dependent on other people, now it should be rooted in the kingdom of God. Dapat ganito kakongkreto ang repentance and conversion na dapat nating pagdaanan ngayong Adbiyento. “Repent, reform your lives!”

            What John the Baptist is telling each of us is this: “Simplify your life! Change your life!” “Change your mind and spirit, your attitudes and behaviors, your relationships and affairs, your points-of-view, your plans (long range and short term). “Turn around… Take on a new set of values, a new perspective towards life, a new way of living.” The kind of repentance John the Baptist is demanding from us implies a coming to a new understanding of life’s purpose and direction, and acting differently from now on – with a renewed sense of mission.

            The first step in the spiritual life is simple: You must see your life not as your own project but as a vehicle for God’s purposes. However, we are all absorbed in our own lives, and we tend to forget this. Advent reminds us that the road to God is one of self-denial and self-forgetfulness. This disposition helps us to focus on Christ and his mission.

            However, for us to be able to do this we must be cleansed of all attachments, we must strip ourselves of all distractions and diversions, and we must be baptized in the fiery love of God. This is the fitting response to the call of John the Baptist: “Repent… Reform your lives.”       

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