2nd Sunday of Advent (C)

“A voice cries in the wilderness, Prepare a way for the Lord,”

John the Baptist is the central figure of Advent season. His message can be hard for us to understand as it was for the people who gathered in the wilderness to hear his words some 2000 years ago. Few people then really comprehended what he meant when he declared his mission was “to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight”. Fewer still could even begin to understand him when he said, “After me comes one whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”. And fewer still when he said, “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. What was John talking about? And what does the message mean for us today?

John the Baptist is the very voice of Advent: He is the last of the prophets and the greatest of them all. He is the voice of the coming of Jesus to earth to make straight the relationship between God and ourselves. We are reminded of the loss of paradise and the promise of the redeemer. The preparations were on down through the centuries, but John had the privilege of immediate preparation by inviting everyone to repentance in order to welcome the messiah into the world. “ As for you little child you shall go before the Lord to prepare His way.” He baptized the giver of baptism and identified him to the world- “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Billy Graham, who often played the 20th century role of John the Baptizer, had these comments about the disease running rampant in the world: “We’re suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed.”
John presents an image of the mountains and valleys being made flat and smooth as a sign of Israel’s repentance and moral transformation. Preparing “the way” means to create a favorable environment or to make it easy for someone to come to one and operate in one’s life. The quotation which John’s work fulfills is taken from Isaiah 40:3-5, where the prophet was calling the people to prepare for the Lord’s visitation. The preparation on which he insisted was a preparation of heart and of life. “The king is coming,” he said in effect. “Mend, not your roads, but your lives.” The quotation, “making straight the paths of the Lord,” means clearing the path of sin, which is the major obstacle preventing the Lord from coming into our lives. The valley here stands for the estrangement of man from God.
There are mountains that need to come down – mountains of pride, anger and prejudice that blocks our way to healthy relationships with one another and with our Lord. There are valleys to be filled – valleys of depression, despair, loneliness, grief, pain, any of which can keep us from the rich relationship the Savior offers and that keep us from enjoying the fellowship of the faith. There are crooked places to be made straight – yes, there is perversity, even among those we might never imagine; fine exteriors mask rotten interiors of abuse, neglect, immorality, even violence. There are rough places to be made smooth – rough places that have come because of oppression and injustice.

John called people to repent as a way of preparing their hearts and lives for the Lord’s visit. He is calling us, too, to get ready for something so great that it fills our emptiness with expectation. A smooth road means nothing to God, but a repentant heart means a great deal. Hence, the truly important goal for us is to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord. By emphasizing the last line of the quotation “All flesh will see the salvation of God,” Luke stresses the universal aspect of God’s salvation. Having begun the section with a list of rulers who did not bring wholeness or salvation, Luke ends with the expectation of a true Lord Who can bring these about.

We need to prepare the way for the Messiah in our hearts: We have to fill in the “valleys” of our souls, which have resulted from our shallow prayer life and a minimalist way of living our Faith. We have to straighten out whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking, like involvement in some secret or habitual sins or in a sinful relationship. If we have been involved in some dishonest practices at work or at home, we are called to straighten them out and make restitution. If we have been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to be reconciled with others, now is the time to clear away all the debris. If we have been pushing God off to the side of our road, if we have been saying to Him that we don’t really have the time for Him, now is the time for us to get our priorities straight. As individuals, we might have to overcome deep-seated resentment, persistent faultfinding, unwillingness to forgive, dishonesty in our dealings with others, or a bullying attitude. And we all have to level the “mountains” of our pride and egocentrism.

We need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and our fellow-human beings: John’s message calls us to confront and confess our sins. We have to turn away from them in sincere repentance and receive God’s forgiveness. There are basically two reasons why people who have recognized their sins fail to receive forgiveness for them. The first is that they fail to repent — but the second is that they fail to forgive. Jesus is very explicit about this in Matthew 6:14 and 15. He says, “For if you forgive men their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Is there someone I need to forgive today? We must not let what others have done destroy our lives. We can’t be forgiven unless we forgive. We must release our bitterness if we are to be able to allow God to do His healing work in our lives.

We don’t live in a perfect world, and we don’t look to this world to see God’s salvation. For salvation, we have to look to Jesus — Jesus present in Scripture, Jesus present in the Sacraments, Jesus present in our coming together in his name, Jesus present in the lives of his followers. Perhaps if we began to see Jesus in each other and in ourselves, and started to treat one another (and ourselves), as we would treat Jesus, more of the world might come to see God’s salvation.

1st Sunday of Advent

“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Today we are entering into the new liturgical year and at the beginning itself, the holy mother the church gives a clear vision of the end to which we are travelling; the second coming of Christ and what we ought to do in order to achieve the final victory of our life here on earth. Advent is a season of expectation and waiting for the coming of the Lord. We have the historical birth of Jesus in space and time. He continues to be with us and accompanies us on our journey to the New Jerusalem, the city of God. Then there is the second coming of the Lord in glory and majesty to reward us at the end of our life.

Our lives are often stressed up with too many preoccupations, constant worries and anxieties about how to manage situations and events. In the process we often forget our priorities and end up achieving very little at the end of the day. We are distracted and often get disappointed when things do not turn up the way we want them to be. The gospel gives a reorientation to our priorities that we should be focused on the goal of our lives. He warns his disciples that they will not know in advance when that dreadful day will be. Although there will be signs in the sky and on the earth, actually that day will be sprung on us suddenly, as Jesus says, like a trap. Our task is to live our lives in readiness, prepared always for that final day of days. We are advised by Christ to stay awake, to be alert so that we may stand in confidence before the Son of Man when he comes in glory. Those who live sinful lives will have reason to fear when that day comes. Those who are caught up in selfishness, licentiousness, deceit and such things will be shaking in their shoes when that final day arrives. However, for a serious Christian the proper attitudes to adopt in preparation for that day are alertness and readiness and a spirit of repentance for our sins. The whole of our Christian lives ought to be one of preparedness, getting ourselves fit for that Last Day.

The Gospel passage of the day is in the background of the curiosity of people to know the details regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. There had been always useless arguments and baseless speculations about this great event. The answer of Jesus is clear that he wants to teach the followers what is their duty in view of the second coming. All knowledge is desirable as far as it will help us to put into practice. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” Jesus is warning us that this world is passing away. Our lives are short, and we have much less time than we think. He wants us to keep things in perspective. It is the eternal life that God is preparing for us, which is really important and the goal of our life.

It is the desire of all of us to enjoy peace, joy and happiness in our lives, but our everyday experience is contrary to our best hopes, so much so that we are often tempted to despair. Who will restore our enthusiasm in the faith? How do we maintain hope in this life? How do we keep our lamp burning bright in spite of the challenges that we encounter daily? We are called to read the signs of the times and be ready to face any eventualities at any time of the day or hour.

Gospel speaks of the certainty that Christ will come. It is true that his discourse seems strange to us. Signs in the sun and moon and stars, the clamor of the ocean, heavenly powers that fall to earth – these are images that we find hard to understand. We find it easier to understand when he speaks about the suffering of the nations, and about men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world.

Living in hope is the only fitting way to celebrate the coming of Christ, and the only way worthy of trust. Christians who believe in hope create situations of hope, and give reasons for others to hope. We pray that when God comes he will find us at work, spreading hope in our world, which is so much in need of it. May he find us vigilant, standing erect, working for a better world of the kind we all hope for. Only in this way can we celebrate Advent and the coming of our Lord into our lives. Then when he comes, he will recognize us as his servants, because when he was absent we did what he told us to do. We made his promises come true as we were waiting for him.

We need to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming by allowing Jesus to be reborn daily in our lives. Advent is the time for us to make this preparation by repenting for our sins, by renewing our lives through prayer and penance and by sharing our blessings with others. Advent also provides an opportunity for us to check for what needs to be put right in our lives, to see how we have failed and to assess the ways in which we can do better. Let us remember the words of Pope Alexander: “What does it profit me if Jesus is reborn in thousands of cribs all over the world and not reborn in my heart?” Jesus must be reborn in our hearts and lives, during this season of Advent and every day of our lives, in our love, kindness, mercy and forgiveness. Then only will we be able to give people his hope by caring for those in need, give them God’s peace by turning the other cheek when we are provoked, give them His love by encouraging those who are feeling sad or tired, and give them His joy by encouraging and helping those who feel at the end of their strength, showing them that we care and that God cares as well. When, with His grace, we do these kinds of things we will receive hope, peace, love, and joy in return. Then we will know that when the King, our Lord Jesus, returns on the clouds of glory, we will be ready for Him.