Advent 2 C


Michel de VerteuilGeneral Comments
On the second and third Sundays of Advent, the church gives us John the Baptist as a model of someone who knows how to wait. In this first passage we have Luke’s summary of the mission of John the Baptist. It is none other than the mission of Jesus himself and of all preachers of the gospel.
John the BIn verses 1 and 2 St Luke invites us to meditate on God’s word which comes to John in the wilderness, bypassing the powerful ones of the world.
Verse 3 is a concise summary of John’s (and Jesus’) preaching.
There are two aspects to verses 4 and 5: the fact that John lived out the vocation of Isaiah, and then the content of his preaching expressed in poetic language. We are invited to identify with both aspects.

Scriptural Reflection
“I thank you, Father, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”      Luke 10:21
Jesus and the poorLord, we forget your way of doing things.
We think it is important to seek the favour of the great ones of the world,
as if their patronage is necessary for the spread of your gospel,
while we neglect the wisdom of the poor.
But your word has always bypassed
* Tiberius Caesar reigning for 15 years,
* Pilate, the great governor,
* those powerful tetrarchs Herod, Philip and Lysanius,
and come to a humble person, living in the wilderness.
Lord, we remember a time when we were in the wilderness:
* our family relationships were at their lowest level;
* at work everything seemed to be going wrong;
* violence and crime ruled in the country;
* our prayer life was as dry as dust.
Yet within that very wilderness there was a voice within us,
crying out that things would turn out right.
We felt so sure of this that, even in the midst of all that desolation,
we prepared a way for your coming and made the paths straight
so that we would be there to welcome you.
We saw some deep valleys and wondered how we would ever get across them,
but we knew that every one of them would be filled in.
There were high mountains before us; they would all be laid low.
The road was winding, so that every time we turned a corner another one appeared;
it would be straightened. As for the rough roads that had our feet sore and bleeding,
they would become smooth as glass.
We knew for sure that we would experience your salvation.
Thank you, Lord.
“We live in a world where no one cares.” School principal, Trinidad
Lord, we pray that in our heartless world the church may, like John the Baptist,
fulfil what is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah,
and be a voice crying out to those who feel themselves in a wilderness
that you have not abandoned them, that every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill laid low,
winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth.
If all people are God’s children, why are we rejoicing when our sons and daughters are safe while death and destruction is wreaked upon innocent people?” Religious Superiors of the USA after the Gulf War
Lord, we still need John the Baptist to teach us your will that all must see your salvation.
“A critical ingredient of the Caribbean today is collective self-knowledge as the vital pre-condition to collective self-possessiveness.” Lloyd Best
Lord, give us the grace to know that what we are doing
is written in the books of the sayings of the prophets.
*************************************
Thomas O’Loughlin,
 
Introduction to the Celebration
Why do we gather here each Sunday to celebrate the sacred meal of the Lord? Because as we say later: when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Now in Advent we recall the past when Jesus first gathered disciples, but we also remember the future when he will come again in glory. Then we will be delivered from all that binds us, but before then we must take John the Baptist as our model: ‘we must prepare a way for the Lord’ within the world we live in.
Homily notes
Looking back&forward1. We can view repentance in two ways. Looking backwards it can be a question of making up for what has been done in the past. Looking forwards it can be getting the matter sorted out and making sure that, as far as possible, the problem does not come back. As with all such ‘two ways of looking at some­thing’, people will then say that this is just a matter of whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, or whether you think that the bottle is half-full or half-empty. But the issue of repentance is more complicated that just manifestations of two ways of looking at life. We can see this by asking which view is embodied in most institutions in the societies to which we belong? We want criminals to go to prison: it is a time to ‘pay back’ for the past. We want criminals ‘to get what they deserve’ on account of their deeds in the past. We want compensation for the past, we want reparation for the past, and we very often want vengeance. Penitence – as the word is used in such words as penitentiary or penal – is linked to a belief that if someone has done something wrong, then later they must suffer for that crime, and somehow that later suffering ‘makes up for the past’. How it could make up for the past is another question: we seem to certainly want ‘people to pay’. This notion that penitence is linked to the past, that it is someone’ getting his /her just deserts’, is found in every society. Indeed, paying up for the past with suffer­ing is often seen as the essence of justice. The people who come out of a court when a criminal who has hurt them has been sentenced to a long sentence often say ‘we have finally got justice!’
2. This is certainly the human perspective, but is it something that we as Christians who believe in a God of love can accept as just a ‘fact of life’? Certainly, many Christians in the past, and indeed today, imagine God as the great score-settler: if people don’t pay in this life, then ‘divine justice’ will get them in the end. Hell, then, is imagined as God’s final reck­oner. Indeed, many contemporary Christians are schizo­phrenic about hell: they find it repulsive to believe in hell for themselves, but are quite happy that it should be there so that God can finally grind out his justice – on others. But is this view, however common, an adequate expression of what Christians hold as their story of God’s dealing with humanity?
3. The prophets – we have the examples of Isaiah and John the Baptist in today’s readings — were in no doubt that people sinned and that the people of God had fallen into sin. Yet, when they call the people ‘to repent’ they start looking for­ward not backwards. To repent is to start anew, to make sure that the former ways disappear, that a new way of living ap­pears. The repentance is the act of preparing the way for the Lord to Come along. Repentance is change so that in the future all can see the salvation of God.
4. Christians have never been in doubt that humanity had fallen into sin and needed a redeemer. But to say it needed a re­deemer is to look forward. God’s justice was not the destruc­tion of the sinful people, but to send his Son. When Jesus came he was not here to punish for the past, but to be the re­deemer who would open up the future after sin and its effects. Jesus called us to a new way of living, he did not come ‘to call to account’ for the past.
Woman at well
5. When the church has preached penitence, it is as a medicine to train the person in a new way of living. We come as sick people to the source of healing (St lhomas). ‘God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins’ (Formula of Absolution). God is love, not vengeance – but.this is a very hard notion for us to grasp and to believe. lhe problem is as old as Ezekiel: ‘Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?’ (18:23); ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live’ (18:32); ‘Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, 0 house of Israel?’ (33:11). And we, two millen­nia after seeing how God deals with his people – he sent them the Christ whose coming we are preparing to celebrate – seem to have as much difficulty in looking forward and seeing repentance as starting afresh with God’s love.
6. But believing that God gives a new future to those who turn to a new way of thinking, living, acting, loving is just part of the task. We are called not merely to follow the Christ who brought the Father’s love in his coming among us. We are called to become like him in our lives. As there is no place for vengeance, and no place for getting a ‘pay back’ for the past in God dealing with us; then there must be a similar desire to let people start over again among us. 1his is what we pray: ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’
Jesus new adam7. Christmas recalls God’s great new start with humanity: Jesus the New Adam. We hear that proclaimed today in the call to repent and to prepare the way. But if we want Jesus to come within our own lives today as he once came in Bethlehem, then we must be prepared to turn from notions of vengeance and become people of forgiveness who look forward. Looking forward is far more difficult than looking backwards – we should honestly admit that as a fact about the human condition, most of us both as individuals and as groups are better at raking over old hurts than at looking for new ways to co-operate with one another. Yet it is only when we adopt this habit of looking forward that we can truly become Christ-like. We see Jesus’s way of looking forward in what he said to the woman they wanted to stone as payment for her past: ‘Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’ an 8:11). The task was to set out into the future: ‘Go’; and start a new way of living: ‘do not sin again’.
8. We are looking forward to Christmas: the Christ we seek to welcome calls us to look forward in the way we live – this is repentance and preparing the way; and he calls us to look forward to his own coming in glory.
Sean Goan
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
Luke begins his account of the ministry of Jesus by putting it in its historical context. He tells us about who was in charge in the worlds of politics and religion and then introduces us to some­one who was something of a threat to them both. John the Baptist is presented as inviting the people to repent, to turn again to God and to show their desire to do this by being bap­tised – a symbolic washing. In so doing John is seen as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in which there is a call to remove every obstacle that might stand in the way of God showing his salva­tion to his people. This gospel reminds us of one of the key themes of Advent: repentance.
Repent. The lord is near
   Repent. The Lord is near
Reflection
Repentance and its associated colour purple remind many peo­ple of the season of Lent rather than Advent but it is not difficult to see why it is so central to our preparation for the coming of Jesus. Without it, the season of Christmas can simply slide into an excuse for over-indulgence, an opportunity to party in an ef­fort to get over the darkness of winter. These readings show the true meaning of repentance, for they speak about leaving aside anything that might blind us to what God wants for us, and opening ourselves to something new and wonderful and be­yond our wildest dreams: God coining in the person of his Son.
*******************************
Donal Neary SJGospel Reflections
All reminds us God is near
A poet wrote: ”when I am an old woman I shall wear purple’, to remind her that life can be different day by day or that she might be personally noticed and change her life.
This time of the year the Church wears purple and we remind ourselves that Jesus is near, that life can be different and that we can change our lives.
The gospel from John the Baptist encourages a change in our lives. We would look on ourselves and regret what we should regret – our sins, our meanness, our minor faults and failings, our injustices and hurt of others. In his time the people would immerse themselves in the river and be forgiven. We can immerse ourselves in the healing and forgiving love of God in many ways, including the sacrament of reconciliation (penance, confession). We can immerse ourselves in the mood of waiting for Christmas, and take this on the spiritual level and well as the ordinary.
beautiful musicAll of the weeks of Advent can be a preparation for the way of the Lord, which we will hear of during the readings of the coming year. This is a time of joyful waiting, knowing we cannot be let down. The purple of Advent is not the purple of mourning but of joyful anticipation – like when we dress in the football team’s colours early in the morning to look forward to a match.
If we take time for the spiritual preparation with some prayer, sacraments (maybe go to Mass once or twice a week, or daily for Advent), and if we help our neighbour a bit more than usual, then nothing of all the preparations can be just secular. Everything of this month can remind us of God… trees, lights, carols, parties, Santa hats, cards, gift-buying – big reminders that God is near.
Give us this day our daily bread and daily truth, Lord God.
********************************************

Fr. John Speekman:


Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:3-6.8-11; Luke 3:1-6
As we saw the first of our Advent candles lit at the beginning of last week's Mass we got a sense of a new beginning, of a setting out, a sense of journey. To me it was a reassuring affirmation that we are all 'going somewhere'; that we are on our way to meet a future, a glorious future, which lies ahead in the uncertainty of our troubled lives and our troubled times.
Those candles tell us our life has meaning, direction, purpose and a goal - all given to us by Christ. They are candles of hope; giving light and yet, like us, being consumed.
This week it is the second candle, and then soon the third and fourth, and then all too quickly it will again be Christmas. Yes, the liturgical year goes round and round in a circle but it is always an ascending circle, a spiral of longing reaching upward for a moment of fulfilment.
We, who live in great, sometimes terrible, vulnerability besieged on every side by temptation and sin, anxiety, fear of illness or old age or failure, or a thousand other difficulties - we, who, whatever our age, are inescapably approaching the painful moment of our death - we wait for a God who saves.
Yes, that is the nature of our God; he is a God who saves. Indeed, that is what the word Jesus means: God saves.
The prophet Baruch, writing all those centuries ago, knew that Israel, just like you and I, had much to suffer, horrible sufferings; the worst of which was that they were exiled from their homeland, and from Jerusalem. And when you come to think of it, so are we; exiled in this 'valley of tears'.
But Baruch, speaking to Jerusalem as though she were a mother, assures her that her children will return. He addresses Jerusalem as Jesus might speak to heaven, our eternal homeland, and announces the new Jerusalem:
Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress ... arise ... stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east ...though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you ... for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with this mercy and integrity for escort.
Our God, as the Lord's Prayer says, means to deliver us evil, every evil, especially death. But we must be patient, we must wait. We must prepare ourselves. We sow in tears; we will reap in joy.
Popular culture would have us believe Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of the Divine Infant to Bethlehem. Not so. He has already come, and gone.
No, though we celebrate, and celebrate again what has already been given us we direct our present desire, under the guidance of the prophet Baruch, to the future coming of the glorious Saviour.
If all eyes turn to Bethlehem where the Virgin gave birth to the Redeemer two thousand years ago it's for the same reason we contemplate the other mysteries of his life, because they reveal the one Lord, the merciful Redeemer and just Judge, who is yet to come in glory.
Our contemplation of the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord is, consequently, a necessary contemplation, which nourishes our understanding and therefore our longing. These ‘mysteries of the Rosary’ are the footsteps of the Saviour in history, leading us to that spectacular moment of completion when the very same Saviour will appear before us in the fullness and splendour of his power over all, including time.
He is coming as he promised; what must we do? I think you already know. We must do the only thing we can - be ready!
Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth.As we saw the first of our Advent candles lit at the beginning of last week's Mass we got a sense of a new beginning, of a setting out, a sense of journey. To me it was a reassuring affirmation that we are all 'going somewhere'; that we are on our way to meet a future, a glorious future, which lies ahead in the uncertainty of our troubled lives and our troubled times.
Those candles tell us our life has meaning, direction, purpose and a goal - all given to us by Christ. They are candles of hope; giving light and yet, like us, being consumed.
This week it is the second candle, and then soon the third and fourth, and then all too quickly it will again be Christmas. Yes, the liturgical year goes round and round in a circle but it is always an ascending circle, a spiral of longing reaching upward for a moment of fulfilment.
We, who live in great, sometimes terrible, vulnerability besieged on every side by temptation and sin, anxiety, fear of illness or old age or failure, or a thousand other difficulties - we, who, whatever our age, are inescapably approaching the painful moment of our death - we wait for a God who saves.
Yes, that is the nature of our God; he is a God who saves. Indeed, that is what the word Jesus means: God saves.
The prophet Baruch, writing all those centuries ago, knew that Israel, just like you and I, had much to suffer, horrible sufferings; the worst of which was that they were exiled from their homeland, and from Jerusalem. And when you come to think of it, so are we; exiled in this 'valley of tears'.
But Baruch, speaking to Jerusalem as though she were a mother, assures her that her children will return. He addresses Jerusalem as Jesus might speak to heaven, our eternal homeland, and announces the new Jerusalem:
Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress ... arise ... stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east ...though they left you on foot, with enemies for an escort, now God brings them back to you ... for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with this mercy and integrity for escort.
Our God, as the Lord's Prayer says, means to deliver us evil, every evil, especially death. But we must be patient, we must wait. We must prepare ourselves. We sow in tears; we will reap in joy.
Popular culture would have us believe Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of the Divine Infant to Bethlehem. Not so. He has already come, and gone.
No, though we celebrate, and celebrate again what has already been given us we direct our present desire, under the guidance of the prophet Baruch, to the future coming of the glorious Saviour.
If all eyes turn to Bethlehem where the Virgin gave birth to the Redeemer two thousand years ago it's for the same reason we contemplate the other mysteries of his life, because they reveal the one Lord, the merciful Redeemer and just Judge, who is yet to come in glory.
Our contemplation of the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord is, consequently, a necessary contemplation, which nourishes our understanding and therefore our longing. These ‘mysteries of the Rosary’ are the footsteps of the Saviour in history, leading us to that spectacular moment of completion when the very same Saviour will appear before us in the fullness and splendour of his power over all, including time.
He is coming as he promised; what must we do? I think you already know. We must do the only thing we can - be ready!
Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low, winding ways will be straightened and rough roads made smooth.
*****
From Father Joseph Pellegrino
I think that most of us are in the middle of Christmas preparations. We are trying to get cards out and gifts bought and wrapped. We are preparing for parties, baking cookies, getting ready for the celebration. The celebration is the birth of Christ, the Divine Presence given to us as one of us. We have to remind ourselves continually that it is for this that we are preparing. All the beautiful traditions that are unique to Christmas: the cards, gifts, carols, and shows, are just reflections of the deep celebration we share when we are united to the One who is both one of us and the Second Person of the Divine Trinity.

In today's Gospel we have a solemn presentation of the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,

Something major is going to be presented, something that has to be seen in its historical context. It would begin with the preaching of John the Baptist:

the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,

The passage from Isaiah is quoted: John was that voice crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord"?

John called out to the people of his time who longed for the Messiah. He is also calling out to people of all time who experience the desperation and darkness of a world that rejects God, and yet, the joy and light in those who accept Jesus Christ. John is calling us to prepare, prepare ourselves, prepare our children, and prepare the world for its Savior.

We prepare ourselves by rooting out the darkness of our lives. That is why we go to confession during Advent. We want to clean the house for company, Special Company, the Presence of the Lord. Many say special prayers during Advent. The Advent Wreath is really a prayer meant for families before dinner. Many spend a little extra time reading scripture. Might I suggest that you reflect on Isaiah 9 & 11.

We prepare our children by teaching them the Christmas story, the real story of the birth of a child in utter poverty, in a smelly stable. We tell them about the proclamation of the angels, the joy of the shepherds and the determination of the wise men. I always feel that families should have two different types of Nativity sets, a nice one for display, and a special one for the children for their touching and playing.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with constructing the first Nativity scene. I am convinced that the saint of poverty wanted to show the world that true riches are found in the Love of God, the Love of the Holy Family and the Love of holy families, families united to the Lord. As you teach your children about the birth, let them know that Christmas is about God's Love, not about materialism. One little custom you might want to incorporate into your family is to keep the manger empty until the children are ready to go to bed on Christmas eve. Then have the children put the baby Jesus in the manger and lead the family in singing "Silent Night"

We prepare the world for its Savior by emphasizing the reason for the celebration. This is Christmas. Don't say, "Happy Holidays: or "Season Greetings" say, "Merry Christmas" Invite family and friends to join you at Mass on Christmas. And when you come to Church and see many whom you do not normally see at Mass, welcome them warmly. Let them know that we want them to be here. There are many people who come back to a regular practice of the faith after being welcomed on Christmas. This is because others, you, prepared the way for them to let Christ into their lives.

We are in preparations mode, preparing not just for the many beautiful facets of the celebration but preparing for the Lord. May our valleys be filled and our mountains and hills be leveled, may our winding roads be made straight, and the rough ways of our lives be made smooth, so that the Messiah may rush into our lives unimpeded. And may we see the salvation of our God, for, indeed, the very name Jesus means God Saves..
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From Sermons.com

A number of years ago a couple traveled to the offices of an Adoption Society in England to receive a baby. They had been on the waiting list a long time. They had been interviewed and carefully scrutinized. Now at last their dreams were to be fulfilled. But their day of happiness was another's pain. 

Arriving at the offices of the Society they were led up a flight of stairs to a waiting room. After a few minutes they heard someone else climbing the stairs. It was the young student mother whose baby was to be adopted. She was met by the lady responsible for the adoption arrangements and taken into another room. Our friends heard a muffled conversation and a few minutes later footsteps on the stairs as the young mother left. They heard her convulsive sobbing until the front door of the office was closed. Then, there was silence.

 The lady in charge then conducted them next door. In a little crib was a six-week old baby boy. On a chair beside it was a brown paper bag containing a change of clothes and two letters. One of these, addressed to the new parents, thanked them for providing a home for her baby and acknowledged that under the terms of the adoption each would never know the other's identity. Then the young mother added one request. Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his eighteenth birthday? She assured them that she had not included any information about her identity. The couple entrusted that letter to a lawyer and one day the young man will read the message which his mother wrote on the day when with breaking heart, she parted with him.

 I wonder what she wrote? If I had to condense all I feel about life and love into a few precious words what would I say? I would have no time for trivia. I would not be concerned about economics, politics, the weather, the size of house or the type of car. At such a time I would want to dwell on the profundities, on what life was all about and what things were absolutely essential. 

John in the desert was in the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets. He was aware that time was running out. In his burning message he had no time for peripheral matters. He was not playing Trivial Pursuit nor was he prepared to splash about in the shallows. Soon the sword of Herod's guard would flash and his tongue would lie silent in the grave. Superficial people came out from Jerusalem to see him. They were intrigued by this strange phenomenon of a wild man preaching repentance. They were fascinated by frivolous things such as his dress, his diet, and his fierce declamatory oratory. They wanted to interview him and then tell all their friends about their remarkable experience. "Who are you?" they asked. His answer was curt: "I am not the Christ." "Are you Elijah?" "No!" "Then who are you?" they persisted. They had their doubts about who he was but his message to their ears was clear: Repent. 

There comes a moment when the preacher longs for his hearers to lose sight of everything except his message. "Don't listen to my accent. Don't look at my clothes. Don't comment on my style. Don't search my biographical details for my University pedigree. Just listen to what I am saying. Repent! 

I would like to suggest this morning that Repent was the first component of his message. There are two others. Let’s take a look at the first. 

1. John's message called people to Repentance
2. John told people to Share.
3. The third thrust of John's message was Serve.
****
From the Connections:

THE WORD:
So important is the emergence of John the Baptizer in human history that Luke dates his appearance in six different ways.  In his Gospel, Luke introduces John as prophets were introduced in the First Testament (“the word of God was spoken to John son of Zechariah in the desert”).  As does Matthew and Mark, Luke cites the famous passage from Isaiah regarding “a herald’s voice in the desert” to describe the Baptizer’s mission -- but Luke quotes more of the Isaiah prophecy than his synoptic counterparts, including the promise of universal salvation that is so central to Luke’s Gospel.
   
Forms of “baptism” were common in the Judaism of Gospel times: in some Jewish communities, it was through baptism rather than circumcision that a Gentile became a Jew.  But John’s baptism was distinctive.  His baptism at the Jordan was a rite of repentance and metanoia -- a conversion of heart and spirit.  The Baptizer’s ministry fulfilled the promise of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36: 25-26): that, at the dawn of a new age, the God of Israel would purify his people from their sins with clean water and instill in them a new heart and spirit.
In his book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Community, theologian Ronald Rolheiser writes about the two baptisms John speaks of in today’s Gospel: “John’s baptism is only a preparation for Jesus’ baptism.  What’s John’s baptism?  It is a baptism of repentance, a realization of what we are doing wrong and a clear resolution to correct our bad behavior.  What is Jesus’ baptism?  It is an entry into grace and community in such a way that empowers us internally to do what is impossible for us to do by our willpower alone.” 
 
HOMILY POINTS:
Each one of us is called to be a prophet of Christ – to “proclaim” (the Greek word for prophet), in our ministries, in our compassion and generous, in our courageous and constant commitment to what is right that Jesus the Messiah has come.
The same Word that came to John in the desert comes to each of us in the deserts of our own hearts, enabling us to transform the wastelands and straighten the winding roads of our lives in the compassion and justice of God.
John comes to fulfill Isaiah’s vision of the prophet: to “make straight” a highway for God, to create a level road for all of us to travel to the kingdom of God.  In baptism, we take on that same prophetic role of “road building:” to create passageways and entries of hope, healing and support for all of us to complete our journey to God’s dwelling place
In giving the needs of others priority over our own interests, in taking the first humbling steps toward reconciliation with another, in seeing in other people the face of Christ, we make a “highway” in our world for the for the Lord who comes.
*****
 ILLUSTRATIONS:

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading the prophet Baruch admonishes the people to take off their garments of mourning and put on festive ones because God will reveal himself in their midst. The people thought God had abandoned them because of their infidelities. Baruch tells his people, “Arise Jerusalem and turn your eyes to the east, be jubilant because God has remembered his people.” God has decreed the flattening of every high mountain, the filling of the valleys to make level ground so that Israel can walk in safety. We on our own may find mountains of obstacles, but He will help us to overcome every barrier because He is our God, with us and for us.

Who you are makes a difference!
A teacher in New York decided to honour each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters that read, "Who I Am Makes a Difference." She also gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Later that day a junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket above his heart. As he left he said, "Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honouring somebody else?” That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honour. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honour with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honour you. My days are really hectic and when I come home I don't pay a lot of attention to you. Tonight, I just wanted to let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid and I love you!" The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn't stop crying. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, "I was planning on committing suicide tomorrow, Dad, because I didn't think you loved me. Now I know you care. This is the happiest day I've known." The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson. Who you are does make a difference!
Anonymous

The point that Luke’s Gospel makes is that the story of Jesus’ birth changes the whole of history. If we Christians do not have a sense of history, we will never appreciate the bible, the liturgy or even the plan of God himself. We know from our experience that love is remembering the good times as well as the struggles of our relationships. Faith too is remembering the goodness of God, all his interventions in our history and all that he has done for us. In the Gospel Luke puts before us the figure of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord. His message is blunt and to the point: “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” John’s message to his listeners can be summarised in that one word ‘Repent’ We cannot be prepared for God’s coming if we are not ready to repent, to change, to turn away from whatever is evil in our lives and turn towards the Lord. At Advent we are not focusing on the first coming of Jesus, which we remember at Christmas, nor His coming to us each time we receive the sacraments, but we look to his final coming at the end of time. Are we prepared to meet the Lord?

Rehearsal!
It was a hot Sunday in June and millions of Americans were watching the U.S. Golf Open on TV. At a critical point in the play, the camera focused on John Nicklaus. He was in the rough and preparing to shoot out. Slowly and deliberately he addressed the ball. Then for a full 20 seconds of prime time TV, he stood poised and ready to swing. Suddenly at the last moment he backed away from the ball and said aloud for everybody to hear, “That’s the wrong swing.” The sports commentator covering the match was confused and said, “But he didn’t swing! What’s going on here?” A lot was going on. And Nicklaus explains exactly what it was in his book ‘Golf My Way’, in which he describes how he prepares for every shot he takes. It is a process called mental rehearsal. This simply means that he plays every shot in his imagination before he plays it for real. Nicklaus writes: “It is like a colour movie. First I ‘see’ the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white… on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I ‘see’ the ball going there. …even its behaviour on landing. Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.” What Jack Nicklaus was doing on that hot Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Golf Open is what the Church is asking us to do during the season of Advent. The Church asks us to go through a kind of mental rehearsal to prepare for the coming of Christ … His final coming at the end of time.
Mark Link

Change your thinking! Change yourself!
Once upon a time there was a king, who ruled a prosperous country. One day he went for a trip to some distant areas of his country. When he came back to his palace, he complained that his feet were very sore because it was the first time that he went for such a long trip, and the road he went through was very rough and stony. He then ordered his people to cover every road of the country with leather. Definitely this would need skins of thousands of animals, and would cost a huge amount of money. Then one of his wise advisors dared to question the king, “Why do you have to spend that unnecessary amount of money? Why don’t you just cut a little piece of leather to cover your feet?” The king was surprised, but later agreed to his suggestion to make a ‘shoe’ for himself. – We often say, “I wish things would change or people would change.” Instead wise people say: “Change your thinking and change your world.”
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

Facilitating God’s Coming
A monk was passing through a dangerous and deserted highway. He came across a wounded man with high fever lying helplessly on the roadside. The monk took compassion on him and began to take care of him. He cleaned his wounds and tied them with medicinal leaves; he shared his food with him and spent the night taking care of him. The following morning the man was a little better and he was able to proceed on his own. When the monk was about to take leave, the stranger turned towards the monk and said to him, “Sir, you do not know who I am, neither my name, nor my race or caste or language, yet you bound my wounds, shared your food and spent the night taking care of me. Tell me, what made you do all these things for me?” Then the monk replied, “The Lord who created me said, ‘What you do to the least of your brethren, you do it for me.’ You are my brother. What I had done to you, I had done it to my Lord.” Then the man said, “Sir who is your God? If your God makes you do all these things to a stranger, then I need that God. Give your God to me.” The monk paved the way for God in that man’s life. It is said that a saint is one who makes it easy for others to believe in God. “Prepare the way for God...”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

Prepared for the end!
Jim had always been a quiet man. His voice was gentle and pleasant. He seemed to have a constant sense of being in contact with God. He had absolutely no aggression in his personality, but he was always deeply upset by reports of impatience, ethnic cleansing, and the flow of refugees, in search of safety and security. Jim got cancer. From the beginning he was totally aware of his situation, and insisted on being kept informed of every step of the prognosis. He retained his dignity, his composure, and his peace of mind. He was very realistic about life and about death. He spoke openly about how he felt and thought. Most impressive of all was his attitude towards death. Whenever I was with him during his final weeks, I always felt that his whole life was a preparation for what was to come. It was obvious that he had made a direct connection between the first coming of Jesus, and his return to call Jim home. He was ready and had a sense of waiting patiently. He spent a lot of his time, while he still had the energy, in reaching out to others, in sorting out his affairs, and in preparing his wife and family for what lay ahead. I was with him when he died. He died as he had lived, with peace, calm and dignity. When I read today’s gospel, I think of Jim. He represents for me what today’s gospel is all about.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

Are we repentant?

I’m no cricket buff, but I do follow from afar, the wins and woes of cricketing nations. Ironically, though Australia won the ICC Championship Trophy on November 5, 2006, it lost the respect of sports-persons nationwide, for its rowdy, reprehensible behavior at the prize-presentation ceremony. Television replays showed Australian cricketers pushing and shoving Sharad Pawar, President of the BCCI and Central Cabinet Minister. Later, Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, apologized for his teammates’ uncivilized behavior. Repentance for a group’s misbehavior is perhaps easier than personal repentance. But that is what today’s readings require.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

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From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1.  Boys Playing Basketball – and MJ

Once upon a time a group of young people (teen age boys if the truth be told) were playing basketball on the parish courts. A bald African American man, with a large diamond in his ear, strolled up and watched them. He looked kind of familiar but the boys knew it couldn’t be. He asked if he might play. He was taller than any of them and they weren’t sure. He promised he would not rebound. So they let him play. He was pretty good. In fact he was truly excellent. Without even working up a sweat, he made three point jump shots, lay-ups, hooks, and even shots with his eyes closed. Either hand too. They had seen this style before, but they still didn’t believe it was the one they thought it might be. Then he spent about fifteen minutes giving them tips which were really radical.  

Hadn’t they seen this act in TV ads? But it would never happen in their parish, would it? Then he thanked them for letting him play and ambled away. They kind of wanted to follow him to see if he really drove a Chevy, because that would have clinched it . But they didn’t. They didn’t tell anyone about what happened. Who would believe that MJ himself had come to their school yard and shot around with them. Besides they didn’t believe it was really him. 

2. "Dam up the Detroit River, and baptize the entire city!"

William P. Barker tells about a machinist with the Ford motor company in Detroit who had, over a period of years, "borrowed" various parts and tools from the company which he had not bothered to return. While this practice was not condoned, it was more or less accepted by management, and nothing was done about it. The machinist, however, experienced a Christian conversion. He was baptized and became a devout believer. More important, he took his baptism seriously. The very next morning, he arrived at work loaded down with tools and all the parts he had "borrowed" from the company during the years. He explained the situation to his foreman, added that he'd never really meant to steal them and hoped he'd be forgiven. The foreman was so astonished and impressed by his action, that he cabled Mr. Ford himself, who was visiting a European plant, and explained the entire event in detail. Immediately Ford cabled back: "Dam up the Detroit River," he said, "and baptize the entire city!" [TARBELL'S TEACHER'S GUIDE, Vol. 82, (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1986).] We can only hope that every Christian takes his or her baptism that seriously. 

 3. Preparation for VIPs:  

When the president or prime minister of a country is  scheduled to make a public appearance, his staff prepares weeks and even months in advance to make certain that the proper protocol will be observed and the leader’ security will be assured. Similarly, detailed preparations precede the appearance of religious leaders like the Pope. Programs are scheduled, choral presentations are practiced, gifts are bought and special persons are chosen to present them in the most gracious manner possible, so that the honored one is duly recognized and appreciated. Careful planning also accompanies the appearances of other political figures, celebrity entertainers and rock singers. When rock stars like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen made a tour, elaborate preparations were made for their coming. If they came to the Silver dome in Pontiac, Michigan, for example, their entourage would ahead of time to get things ready for their concert. Stages would be set; lighting would be adjusted; every care would be taken so that the needs and whims of each guest would be fully accommodated. In fact, one wonders if today’s gospel about John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Jesus applies more to modern rock stars than it does to the true Messiah. Only when we put the same care and commitment into our spiritual Christmas preparations that rock stars put into their musical performances, will “all mankind begin to see the salvation of God.”
 
4. Bat baptism: 

Three pastors got together for coffee one morning. Much to their surprise they discovered that all their churches had problems with bats infesting their belfries. The bats were making a terrible mess. "I got so mad," said one pastor, "I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to the bats."  "I tried trapping them alive," said the second. "Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church."  "I haven't had any more problems," said the third.  "What did you do?" asked the others, amazed.  "I simply baptized and confirmed them," he replied. "I haven't seen them since."  If that story doesn't make you laugh, it will make you cry. It is such a common occurrence. People come to the church desiring Christian baptism and church membership. We welcome them into our fellowship, and then for six weeks or so after we welcome them into our fellowship, we don't hear anything of them. What does it mean? Or parents stand at the altar to present a child to God. They make promises to bring up that child in the household of faith, and then they disappear. We rarely see them again. What did those promises mean? On this second Sunday of the New Church Year our lesson from the Gospels focuses our attention on the place of baptism in our lives. Jesus came to be baptized by John.

5. 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 fault-finding, 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.  As a society we might have to dismantle unfair housing policies, employment disparity, economic injustice, or racial and ethnic biases.

6. We need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and 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.

7. "Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied."  

A soap manufacturer and a pastor were walking together down a street in a large city.  The soap manufacturer casually said, "The gospel you preach hasn't done much good, has it?  Just observe. There is still a lot of wickedness in the world, and a lot of wicked people, too!"  The pastor made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter.  Seizing the opportunity, the pastor said, "I see that soap hasn't done much good in the world either; for there is much dirt still here, and many dirty people are still around."  The soap man said, "Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied."  And the pastor said, "Exactly!  So it is with the gospel."
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8. Shake It Off and Step Up! 

A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer's well. The farmer heard the mule braying and went to the site. After assessing the situation the farmer sympathized with the mule but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead he called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels and bury the poor mule and put him out of his misery.

The mule seemed hysterical. When the dirt struck his back he shook it off. As the farmer and his friends continued to shovel a thought struck the farmer. After each shovel of dirt was thrown onto the mule he said, "Shake it off and step up." The mule did what he asked, after every shovel of dirt. After a time the old mule stepped triumphantly out of the well. What seemed to bury him actually became his road to freedom.

There is an alternative to every impossible situation. The way is not always visible to us. But our task is not to work miracles, that is up to God. Our responsibility is to prepare the way, committing every ounce of energy we have to the possibility of the transforming power of God, remembering that a single act of kindness can bring hope to generations yet to come.

Keith Wagner, Possibilities Unlimited
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9. There Is Work to Do!

 What a message for us at Advent! "Let every heart/Prepare him room" we sing. Perhaps we would do well to say let every heart get out the bulldozers and backhoes, the rock crushers and road graders:

There are mountains that need to come down - mountains of racism, sexism, ageism, and any other "-ism" 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.  

There is work to do! Bring on the heavy equipment!
 
David E. Leininger, One Shock after Another
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10. The Hinge of History

It sometimes seems that God shows his sense of humor with history. Halford Luccock once noted that Nero was sure that the most important happenings in Rome were the words he said, the laws he enacted, and the things he did. As a matter of fact, the biggest events in Rome at the time were some prayer meetings which were being held secretly in the catacombs. The Medici, he observes, must have seemed the key figures in Renaissance Europe, with their palaces, art galleries, and political power. Yet they are overshadowed by "a little boy playing about on the docks of Genoa," who would eventually open the seaway to the Americans - Christopher Columbus.

So it was in John the Baptizer's time. One can easily imagine the pomp and circumstance with which Herod trampled about as tetrarch of Galilee. Wherever he went, people scraped and bowed. They waited for a disdaining nod and dreamed of some act of preferment from his hand. Herod was, indeed, a big man in Galilee in the first century. Today, all his pomp is simply pompous, and all his circumstance only circumstantial. But John the Baptizer! -- a great human being.


J. Ellsworth Kalas, 'The Hinge of History,' Sermons on the Gospel Readings, Cycle C, CSS Publishing Company
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 11. A Higher Standard of Living

Max Lucado tells the story of a man who had been a closet slob most of his life. He just couldn't comprehend the logic of neatness. Why make up a bed if you're going to sleep in it again tonight? Why put the lid on the toothpaste tube if you're going to take it off again in the morning? He admitted to being compulsive about being messy.

 Then he got married. His wife was patient. She said she didn't mind his habits . . . if he didn't mind sleeping on the couch. Since he did mind, he began to change. He said he enrolled in a 12-step program for slobs. A physical therapist helped him rediscover the muscles used for hanging up shirts and placing toilet paper on the holder. His nose was reintroduced to the smell of Pine Sol. By the time his in-laws arrived for a visit, he was a new man. 

But then came that moment of truth. His wife went out of town for a week. At first he reverted to the old man. He figured he could be a slob for six days and clean up on the seventh. But something strange happened. He could no longer relax with dirty dishes in the sink or towels flung around the bathroom or clothes on the floor or sheets piled up like a mountain on the bed.

What happened? Simple. He had been exposed to a higher standard of living.

That's what confession and repentance do for us. That's what Jesus does for us.

Billy D. Strayhorn, Thunder in the Desert

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12. Turn on the Lights!

During the recent recession, one commentator on television began his newscast by saying, "Due to the current financial crisis, the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off." The world turns off lights. Christians turn them on - look around you, in your neighborhoods, in this season. Light (especially light at the end of a tunnel) represents hope. Something that pierces the darkness.

William R. Boyer, A God Full of Surprises
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13. We Need a Bath!

Last week we embarked on the journey of Advent. We lit the first candle, and we read biblical passages that propelled us into the future to consider the end of time-the apocalypse. Today, our reading sends us in the opposite direction. On the second Sunday of Advent, we are pulled into the distant past to hear the words of the ancient prophet, Malachi. Malachi tells of a figure who is coming "to prepare the way for the Lord." He speaks of a messenger who will purify people's hearts. "God is sending an emissary," writes Malachi, "who comes intending to cleanse your souls."

It all seems a bit presumptuous, doesn't it? In the midst of our pre-Christmas hustle and bustle, the church trots out some primitive prophet who promises us an Advent scrub-down. Is that really what we need right now? You would think that the lectionary could come up with a few encouraging words at this time-assuring us that we will make it through another Christmas, instead of cheekily suggesting that before God arrives, we need a bath.

Scott Black Johnston, Fire and Soap

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14. Recognizing our Need to Repent 

One critic said he had gone to many churches and heard the preacher say,

"Don't try to impress God with your works" or "Don't attempt to please God with your merits" or "Don't try to keep the rules and regulations and thus win your way." He looked around at nearly slumbering collections of utterly casual Christians and wondered, "Who's trying?" 

Martin Marty
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15. Our Basic Problem

Billy Graham, who has often played the 20th century role of John the Baptizer, had these comments about the disease running rampant in our 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."

Michael J. Anton