Sunday, December 6, 2015

Prepare the Way



                                    2nd Sunday of Advent
                                    



In this liturgical year the first reading for each of the Sundays in Advent is taken from a different Hebrew prophet. Last week it was Isaiah and this week it is the somewhat lesser known Baruch. It is common for us to think of a prophet as someone who foretells the future but usually the Hebrew prophets just talk about their own time, especially its problems. They also stress the need for change. Isn’t that what Advent is all about? It is a time for us to take stock of where and who we are; and to realize what we need to do to get back on track.

Baruch begins by urging Jerusalem to take off its “robe of mourning and misery.” Now, whenever we hear an Old Testament prophet use the word “Jerusalem”, we should realize that he is not speaking about a city or place. Jerusalem means the whole nation or people of God. In the same way, we speak of the Church today as the people of God. In Baruch’s time the people had been scattered and dispersed by foreign conquest. As he says, they have even been forcibly led away into exile and captivity.

He does, however, predict a return, a restoration of the Kingdom, in words similar to those used by Isaiah last week,


            For God had commanded
That every lofty mountain be made low,
And that the age-old depths and gorges
Be filled to level ground,
That Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.

These words are echoed in today’s gospel account and St. Luke sees their fulfillment in “the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” preached by John the Baptist, the last great Hebrew prophet. In other words, all this business about leveling the mountains, straightening the roads, and filling in the gorges has to do with our own personal lives.

John the Baptist was a real historical figure who appeared at the appointed time to point the way to the One who was going to change everything. But notice, he does not say that God will do the heavy road construction work. It is up to us to prepare the way, make straight the paths, fill the valleys, and level the mountains and hills.

When John speaks of repentance, he is talking about looking over our lives and taking stock of who we are and where we are going. Advent is a perfect time for us to do so. It is the beginning of a new year so to speak. For centuries the Church has advised us to examine our conscience. In particular, such a review might examine a dominant fault and work on ways to correct it, or it might consider a particular strength or virtue and consider ways to increase it.

Even though the phrase may sound strange to us today, the idea is not outmoded. At the end of each year business people are advised to look back on the past year and consider what worked and what didn't work. They spend hours examining their strengths and weaknesses. For the upcoming year they are urged to prepare a business plan where they will work on developing their strengths and overcoming their weaknesses.

Athletes do the same thing. Every week coaches spend hours examining game films to see what they did right and what they did wrong. Whole practices are devoted to making the necessary corrections and incorporating them into next week’s game plan. Why do we spend so much time preparing for games but so little time preparing for the game of life?

When it comes to the most important things in our own lives we fail to examine our conscience? As the old saying goes, people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan. What did we do wrong last year? How did we hurt ourselves and our loved ones? Can we begin now to rid ourselves of bad or destructive habits?

On the positive side what strengths or virtues do we possess? What can we do to build spiritual muscle memory so that good behavior becomes easy and natural to us? The word virtue merely means a good habit, while a vice is a bad habit. Now is the time to kick the bad habits and concentrate on the good.

In today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians he ends with a little prayer in which he urges his people to reflect on their lives and consider what they really value:

And this is my prayer:
That your love may increase ever more and more
In knowledge and every kind of perception,
To discern what is of value,
So that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…

The biggest criticism against Christians today is that we are no different than anyone else. Rather than being a light to the nations, the darkness in our society seems to be overwhelming us. We don't have to go about wearing our religion on our sleeve but in our homes, our schools, and in our businesses we should be producing good fruit. We don't need laws and judges to bring Christ back into Christmas. All we need is for Christians to act like Christians.

Reading 1. Baruch 5: 1-9
Reading II. Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Gospel. Luke 3:1-6 (Prepare the Way).


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