A Time for Becoming
Second Sunday of Advent. Fr John Farrell reminds us that Advent is a time for new year’s resolutions.
Our Advent Gospel today is the prologue to Saint Mark’s gospel. In the rest of this Gospel Jesus leads a crowded life walking through landscapes of farmland, and villages and fishing boats. It is a life on the move, almost always surrounded by people clamouring for his attention and healing. So this is a remarkable opening. We are in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of evil spirits and wild beasts – Jesus will be tempted here – but at the same time a place of hope. As Isaiah, in our first reading, proclaims. ‘A voice cries, “Prepare in the wilderness a Way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God.”’
With John the Baptist’s preaching – in the wilderness – this highway is being laid. ‘Every valley is to be filled in and every mountain and hill laid low.’ A new Exodus is beginning. Here it is God coming to us to redeem a lost and disoriented people, like a good shepherd reclaiming lost sheep.
Yet where the prophecy speaks of a messenger of coming before ‘me’ (that is, God), here God proclaims that the messenger – John the Baptist – will come before ‘you’. Who can this be? Who is the stronger one, the coming one that John speaks of? He is still not yet on the scene of the drama of the Gospel.
In Advent we celebrate three advents (comings) of Christ. The final coming of Christ ‘to judge the living and the dead’ at the end of time was the theme for the first Sunday of Advent. Now John the Baptist dominates this middle section of Advent as we prepare for Christ’s coming in history, at Bethlehem and in the Jordan river. But there is a third coming. The present daily coming of Christ into our hearts and lives.
Advent is a season of hope and joy as we look forward to Christmas. But to journey on the way through the wilderness we need to heed the call of John the Baptist to repent. We need to recognise the lack of direction in our lives or even that we are travelling in the wrong direction. Turn around! Be converted!
A good Advent question would be to ask oneself: What sort of person am I becoming? Do I like the sort of person I am becoming?
It is often said the Christmas is for children. If so, then Advent is for adults. Life has not turned out as we expected. Things have happened to happen. We are somewhat shop-soiled by life. There is something shoddy and time worn about us. We need to recognise and acknowledge spiritual complacency which is a dangerous but hidden vice more corrupting perhaps than outright sin.
Becoming content with the adequate can ‘grey-out’ our lives. We are ‘managing’ but the colour, vitality and joy has drained away – greyed out. An honest response to the call of John the Baptist can allow us to turn around and become receptive to the daily advent of Christ into our lives bringing that colour and joy of Christmas.
Advent is a season both of penance and of joy together. It is the beginning of the Church’s New Year and a time to make new year resolutions – even if kept only for these few Advent weeks.
Hope and trust in God, and all that God has given us for the journey of our lives towards him, is not just a mental state. It is a style of living. Like expecting a guest and all that involves in preparing a room, sheets, food, drinks, flowers and not leaving everything to the last minute. Above all, we need to set aside times for stillness and silent prayer in a noisy, hectic season. Advent is a time of welcoming Christ daily into our hearts and lives.
We live in uncertain and dark times with many problems facing us: ecological dangers, war and hatred, social inequalities. This is the world the Father so loves that he sends us his Son and Jesus sends us, his disciples and people of good will. The world needs men and women of joy, of hope in God and of courage in Christ.