2nd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Earl Meyer, in his book of homilies, talks about secular Christmas and spiritual Christmas as two parallel worlds. These worlds are very different. For example: The marketplace is now bustling with commercial activity. Meanwhile the church is observing the quiet waiting of Advent. The stores are blaring Christmas carols. In church we sing sober Advent hymns. A jolly Santa Claus at the shopping malls tells us to be merry. A severe John the Baptist at the Jordan tells us to repent. In the marketplace Christmas ends on the 25th. In church Christmas begins on the 25th and continues until the Epiphany.
How are we to deal with these conflicting messages? Well, the tension should not be a surprise to us. Why? Because Christianity is essentially counter-cultural. The dominant values of our society often conflict with the Gospel.
The Church places John the Baptist at the center stage on the second Sunday of Advent because he is the very voice of Advent. In today’s gospel he talks about preparing the way for the Lord, in terms of getting rid of the bumps and holes in our life to make a straight path for the Lord.
The way of the Lord to the human heart is marred by the crookedness of the paths he must pass to come to us. (Bishop Bacani) These “crooked paths” hinder or hamper the coming of the Lord. They make us complacent, self-indulgent and self-satisfied. They make us ignore the call to repentance and conversion. They force us to disregard the more important things in life. They drive our focus and heart away from the kingdom of God. How can the Lord come to our heart if it is distorted by the values of consumerism, materialism, and worldliness? Or if it is twisted by envy, jealousy, anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness? Or if it is perverted by covetousness, lust, and inordinate desires?
God did not intend to make a few cosmetic changes by sending Christ into the world. God intended nothing less than to change the whole dynamic of human character. That is why each Advent we encounter this strange character: John the Baptist with his call to repentance. Christmas is about a righteous God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to save us. This is the heart of Advent.
Repentance is not just “feeling guilty” for doing something wrong or “feeling guilty” for not trying to be a better person or saying “Sorry” and promising not to repeat the wrong. Those are all part of repentance or ‘preliminaries’ to it. But they are not the essence of repentance at all. Repentance involves three things: A change of mind – a new way of thinking and seeing; A change of heart – a new direction in life; A change of behavior – a new way of acting.
Henri Nouwen once said, “Our lives get stuffed with newspaper items, television stories, and gossips.” “Then our minds lose the discipline of discerning between what leads us closer to God and what does not.” “And our hearts lose their spiritual sensitivity.” It is the hard work of acknowledging our sin and repenting that leads us to God.
We heard in today’s first reading these words from the Prophet Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made plain; the rough country, a broad valley.” This message is echoed by John the Baptist in today’s gospel – as he preaches repentance and conversion.
How about you? What valley in your life needs to be filled in? What mountain or hill needs to be made low? What rugged land needs to be made plain? What rough country needs to be made as a broad valley? What do you intend to do with them this Advent season?
While I was sorting out my old notes, I came across a reflection paper that I had written when I was still a theology student – 31 years ago. The title of the reflection paper is: “The Valleys and Hills in My Life.” It is a written reflection on the significance of Advent.
Part of that reflection is a prayer that I composed. It is actually based on the words of Isaiah in today’s first reading: Let us end with this prayer – please pray it with me: Lord God, help me to perform my task of preparing a royal highway for Jesus. Fill the valleys of my heart that is empty of generosity, kindness, and love. Bring low the hills of my pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness. Smooth out the roughness of my being and the harshness of my character. Amen.