Last week Jesus told his disciples to be like servants watching for the return of their master. I talked with you about how this was an active watching, that because as we know and remember at Christmas that Jesus Christ was real and walked on this earth in the past, so we must be ready for him to return. A place that we could begin was with kindness… kindness towards other human beings that leads to listening and dialog, and ultimately friendship and community. Today we hear John the Baptist telling us to prepare, and he focused on something that can help us live with kindness and engage others in true listening and dialog. And beautifully… wonderfully… the Church has already just a few moments ago helped us to practice what we need to do.
So let’s walk through this Gospel a little bit. John the Baptist proclaims his message from Isaiah, “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” These last two Sundays as the Church proclaims that very same message, the message of Advent, to preparation. The color purple showing up everywhere, the Advent wreath slowly lighting candles as time passes, the prayers\dots\ even apart from the words of the Gospel itself, everything right now is telling us to prepare, that we are waiting for something that is coming. In the Gospel all the people of Judea and Jerusalem come to John to hear that message just as we have gathered here – whether in person or through video – we are here as a community and not alone. But the real key, the real connection between us and the Gospel is that the crowds responded to John the Baptist, and as they were baptized they acknowledged their sin as they began to look for the mighty one who was coming. Think about that for a moment. They were baptized, they acknowledged their sins, and they looked for God’s presence. At the start of this mass, what did we do? “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”
“Brothers and sisters” – that is the name we share by our baptism. We’re not brother and sister because we live in the same country or are all part of this human race\dots\ we’re brothers and sisters because we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Simply by that title we remember our baptism just as the people of Judea stepped into the Jordan to experience that early sign of baptism offered by John.
“Let us acknowledge our sins” – the direct parallel to the words of our gospel. “[They] were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” This was the heart of what John’s message led to. His was a message of repentance. In order to prepare for the Lord and make straight his path, we must acknowledge our sin.
“And so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries” – because having recognized our sin, we can then turn to the presence of God. We know that we will find him sacramentally in this place. We know that he will come to us in the Eucharist, a foreshadowing of his coming again in glory.
Our preparation of Advent is to recognize who we really are, to see that we need the presence of Christ in our lives and to yearn for that to be a reality. We’ve lived this Gospel. In the simplicity of the penitential act at the start of mass, we have experienced a mini-Advent. There is nothing in our liturgy, no word or action that we do together in this space as part of the Church’s prayer, that is not profound in meaning and steeped in the reality of what God has done in history.
Now how is this going to help us live with kindness and engage others in true listening and dialog? To do those things with another human being we need to be able to recognize that we are not perfect. Authentic human relationship is not about winning. To be kind to someone we must be willing to see if we have hurt them and do everything we can to acknowledge our mistake and undo it. Kindness requires the courage of knowing that we won’t be perfect in the future either, and that we must make the effort for others to know the goodness of our heart and our intention to be good to them. To put it more simply, genuine dialog does not take place with closed hearts. As you seek to make a friend this Advent, focus on that humble kindness, and prepare the way of the Lord.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.