REPENT – PREPARE! 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B
There had been a news report told of a group of people gathered on a hillside to await the end of the world and the return of the Lord. The end did not come at the expected time. Meekly, the leader and his small band of followers dispersed. A TV camera zoomed in on a crumpled sign that read: Repent and Believe! The time is short. The TV reporter summed up with a final observation: “Even though the end of the world didn’t come, these people may have gotten closer to God by preparing for it”.
During Advent, we prepare for the coming of the Lord. We recall His coming in the flesh, the incarnation event. We recall His final or second coming at the end of the world when Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. The Prophet Isaiah urges us to prepare for the coming of the Lord into the deserts of our hearts. “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” Peter reminds us “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out”. John the Baptizer appears on the horizon of our spirits, and announces those hopeful words to us who prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming. “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals. I have baptized you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
We are more likely to hear the commercial appeals to prepare for Christmas more often than the call of the Lord’s spokesman to “Prepare the way of the Lord…”. “There are only so many days left till Christmas. Buy now and save” are messages we will hear over and over again without too much complaint and for many a lot of response. The demanding word of preparing for the Lord’s coming into our hearts is heard much less with greater complaints and resistance because it is a much more demanding message. The Lord wants to come into our very hearts and that means for us a lot of spiritual work. When the Lord comes, being the Light of the world, He lights up our hearts and lives where He wants to come. The inner heart may have been neglected with the pressing matters of day to day living. When the Lord comes and His light lights up our hearts, we begin to see what is in our hearts. The good and the bad is lit up with the Lord’s coming. We know, in our physical houses, we are quite comfortable with things out of order or in need of straightening up and repairing, that is until someone is coming and suddenly it becomes important to us to put things in order, clear things out, clean up, fix up, complete things, and generally make the place ready for whoever is coming. Our awareness of the Lord’s coming creates the same preparation for our spiritual houses, that is our hearts, our emotions, our attitudes, our souls, our minds, and our lives.
Each of us is called to go into the desert of our spirits and souls and prepare the way of the Lord. This is not always an easy task, any more than it was for the Hebrews to prepare for the Lord’s coming. The Lord sends words of comfort, mercy and reconciliation. The sins which are found in our spirits can be forgiven, and all the other obstacles can be overcome. “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.” These words were first spoken to Israel at the end of the Babylonian captivity, which was a desert experience like the first one 700 years earlier at the time of Moses. Now the Lord was going to work a new Passover/exodus and deliver His people from the sins which lead to their captivity. Our sins, the obstacles in our own hearts, can hold us captive. The Lord was going to turn the desert into a fruitful place of freedom for His people, the rough country into a broad plain, and the glory of the Lord was to be revealed. Then once again, the Israelites would announce the good news. “…cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news…here is your God!” These realities occur again and again in the lives of God’s people. The saving Lord speaks to us through the prophets and the church into the desert wasteland of our lives, in our sufferings, in our sins, in our lack of hope or faith, in our addictions, in our slaveries, in our bondages of body, mind or spirit. Listening to the prophets proclaim the tender saving mercies of God is the beginning of our preparation for the coming of the Lord. We can believe Peter when he says, “…He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”. With this encouragement, we can do the work of repentance. John the Baptizer offers us a model of repentance and how we can begin to clear away the mountains, hills, rough spots, and fill in the valleys of our spirits so the Lord can find His way into our hearts. At the heart of the preparation is confession of sins. Nothing so removes the obstacles in our hearts and lives. “People…were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” That is why the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation is important for Advent. For serious sins, it is the only sure road to peace for the faithful Catholic. The Church has preserved the liberating truth proclaimed by the Advent prophets of the Old and the New Testament. It’s the means the Lord has especially given for us to remove the mountains of serious sins, and the valleys of spiritual despair which come with unforgiven and unrepented sin. How long has it been since you last made a sacramental confession? Are there mountains and valleys and rough places which keep the Lord from coming? Remove them!