2nd Sunday of Advent
by Fr. Jack McArdle
GOSPEL : MATTHEW 3:1-12
Preparing for the coming of the Lord. John the Baptist, back then, was a figure of the role of the Church today. With all of the many dimensions of our preparations for Christmas, we, as Christians, must give priority to the preparation of our hearts, of our inner beings. (Jesus didn't come to be locked in a tabernacle. He came to make his home in the human heart). As with last Sunday, there is a sense of urgency about the call to prepare the way. Not everything in our lives is important, just because it appears urgent. I can be so busy with he urgent that I overlook the important. The call of today's Gospel is both urgent and important. Preparation for an event and the actual event are not exactly the same thing. John predicts an extraordinary outpouring of blessing from 'the one who is coming after me'. Our preparation for Christmas is but the beginning of blessings and of gifts that will continue for eternity.
One of my earliest memories, growing up in the country, was the coming of electricity. This was awaited with great excitement. With each day, the postman kept us up-to-date on 'where they are now', as the polls continued to be erected. Finally, the great day arrived. We had electricity! Gone was the old wireless, with its wet and dry battery; gone was the tilley lamp in the kitchen, and the hurricane lamp in the farmyard. With all the excitement, it was some days before I noticed something really strange, something that really baffled me. An elderly couple living nearby had not applied for the electricity, and nothing there had changed. I just couldn't understand this, because I failed to grasp the simple fact that they were free to make that decision if they chose to do so. The wires passed by, within a few yards of their front door; yet, they decided to remain as they were, with their tilley lamp and their hurricane lamp, and in a house that had nothing of the brightness or the facilities for common comforts that all their neighbours now enjoyed. It has taken me years to understand and to apply the message behind that simple incident......
God does not give me anything, but he offers me everything. He offers me peace, but I'm completely free to live in misery, and die of ulcers, if I so choose. He is constantly reminding me, offering me, calling me, inviting me.... This Christmas is yet another opportunity to listen to his message, and to respond afresh. I cannot live today on a YES of yesterday. When I was a child I knelt in front of the crib in the local church, with a sense of awe. The whole thing seemed so real back then. What has changed? "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and always". I have changed, of course, which is what is supposed to happen, as my life unfolds. That sense of awe of my childhood should now be much more widespread. It should encompass life itself, the sacrament of the present moment, and my own personal vocation to accept the message of Christmas, and integrate it into my daily living. The Inner Child of yester-year is still there, and the ability to experience a sense of awe is always possible to recapture.
Life is difficult, and it is very fragile. One heart attack, and it's all over. Life is what happens when you're making other plans. If you want to hear God laugh, just tell him your plans! Here's another Christmas, where it can be here we go again, or it can be something very beautiful, very special, and very life-giving. It is an opportunity to be recycled. It is like going through another cycle in the washing-machine of the Lord, and, for some people, it could be their 'final rinse'!
Don't just drift into Christmas, and don't allow it become a time of year which most people wish was over and done with. Take some definite time out, not a great deal, to reflect on what Christmas is all about, and what, if anything, it means to you. I remember hearing an elderly lady recall a habit her father had. He went to Confession once a month. On the day before Confession, we walked the farm in silence, and he spent the whole day in some sort of quiet inner prayer. Even the mother whispered to the children "Don't bother your daddy today. He's going to Confession to-morrow". It would be so easy and so simple for the cynic to comment on such a practice, but I really don't think it is something upon which any of us is qualified to comment. If that's what the man thought he should do, then, he was perfectly entitled and justified in doing it.
Prepare a pathway for the Lord's coming. Make a straight road for him. Can you honestly recognise things in your life, in your behaviour, in your relationships, that can be obstacles to this time of love, of reconciliation, of freedom from bondage? What do you find within yourself that spoils or limits the gift that you are, now that we are approaching that time of year when gift-giving becomes part of our living?
Why wait till you die to face the judgement of God? Today, this very day, you can come to the Lord with the wheat and the chaff, with all that you are, and allow him separate the chaff, and dispose of it in the furnace of his love. Because of the extraordinary nature of the love expressed by God in the whole story of Christmas, it would be a special and grace-inspired response if I tried to meet that love with an open and honest heart. If he is a Saviour coming in search of sinners, then 'Here I am, Lord…'
God could have chosen to love us from a distance. However, he decided to join us on our human journey. There are stations and bus stops on that journey, and Jesus can come aboard in my life at any point of the journey, but only if I stop and ask him. On the other hand, I can be on a journey, through compulsion, addiction, or self-will run riot, and it is bound to end in destruction. Like a rapid-rail, or an Underground, I can decide to get off at any one of the stations. Jesus will be waiting for me on the platform….
When I was baptised, someone else said YES on my behalf. Confirmation wasn't much better, as I was marched up to the altar. Sooner or later, and much sooner rather than much later, I myself must say my own personal YES. The first time I was carried into a church I wasn't consulted, and the next time I'll be carried into a church, I'm not going to be consulted either. Somewhere in between those two events, I must make a personal, sincere, and conscious decision about my Christian vocation. Years ago, the word 'vocation' was something that a priest or a nun had! That is not true anymore. The greatest calling, or vocation, that can be given a human being is the call to be a follower of Jesus.
Jesus is the reason for the Season. Strip back all the tinsel and wrapping, and discover the REAL GIFT of Christmas. Your own personal, and mostly private, input into this Christmas, is what will make all the difference in the world. No matter what gifts or cards you receive from others, the greatest gift of all is one you can choose to give yourself….
Togo was a young African boy, who was always asking questions. He had a great thirst for knowledge, and was prepared to go to any lengths to get that knowledge. One question that intrigued him more than any other was "What language does God speak?" Nobody could answer his question, so he set off in search of the answer. He travelled from country to country, but still failed to find the answer. Finally, one cold, snowy, wintery night he arrived at what was no better than a makeshift hut, outside Jerusalem, in a place called Bethlehem. He looked, and was just about to ask his question, when a young woman beckoned him to enter. As he entered he saw a young couple, with a new-born baby wrapped up in some clothing, and lying on the straw of a manger in the corner. The young woman spoke. "Welcome, Togo. We have been expecting you." Togo was amazed, but the young woman continued "You have been asking what language God speaks. Come over and sit by the manger for a while, to reflect, and to listen. God speaks the language of love, of gentleness, and of belonging. He speaks the language of everybody who is poor, who is homeless, who is weak, who is powerless. It is only in speaking their language that he can let them know why he came, and what he wants to offer them. His language is so simple that the intellectual and the worldly-wise will dismiss it as meaningless. It is a language that only children, and those with the heart of a child, can understand." Yes, indeed, Togo had, at last, found the answer to his question.
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And That's The Gospel Truth copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.