The Second Sunday of Advent is characterized by the Advent figure of John the Baptist who summarizes the Advent message into his simple cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is a time of preparation. If we are to be ready to receive the Lord when he comes then we must prepare a way for him in our lives. This task of preparation that we must undergo is not something merely cosmetic or superficial, such as redecorating our lives with nice things that we hang on the exterior of our living spaces but must be a profound, interior realignment of our lives. We must “do better” with the gift of life that God has given to us and in order to“do better” we need to “be better.” This is a very personal task for each one of us. All of us can use a little realignment in our lives to help us to be better persons. John calls this interior conversion of our lives“repentance”. Repentance involves real change in our lives. We must turn away from a former way of living and thinking and become a new person with a new way of thinking and looking on the world. This begins with confession of our sins so that we may seek forgiveness for these sins – a forgiveness that involves a cleansing and purification of the effects of sin in our lives. We can only be cleansed from our sins when we have truly ceased to cling to these sinful patterns in our lives. It is not enough to merely admit that we are wrong but we must truly seek to do what is right and live a new way of righteousness. If we cling to our sinful ways of thinking and behaving then we can never be truly washed clean of them. John tells the tax collectors that they need to stop cheating people and he tells the soldiers that they need to stop bullying people. If we seek true repentancethen we need to have real change in our lives.
If John the Baptist were addressing the people of today what would he tell us? Perhaps he would challenge our meanness and our affection for being “haters”. “Haters gonna hate,” we hear in our popular culture today. One of the barriers to forgiveness is our hatred and our clinging to hateful ways of thinking about others. It seems that the newspapers and media reports are full of examples of chronic hatred and how it turns people to violence. Behind the acts of terrorism, of mass murders, of jealous rages, of mass riots in the streets is a hidden hatred that has fomented in the minds and hearts of people today. A recent researcher has looked at this problem of hatred and remarked, “And it is also possible that the increase in narcissism and feelings of self-entitlement, so common in our country today, has led to an increase in the experience of anger, frustration, resentment and even hatred. After all, if you are the “most important person in the whole world” and you subscribe to the Burger King philosophy of “Have it your way,” any failure of others or the environment to satisfy you is cause for rage. Unfortunately, there are also many long-term consequences, and unending cycles of revenge are one of them. And for individuals, hatred sort of “pickles” a person, filling them with resentment, bitterness, and even depression. And of course it keeps people from doing anything positive with their life…In a temporary way, hatred makes you feel morally superior and gives you energy and purpose, but at the price of long-term debilitation. In many ways, interpersonal hatred is a kind of defense mechanism protecting the ego or narcissism of the individual. And presumably, as Christians, we all know that this interpersonal hatred is wrong, and was explicitly rejected by Our Lord. We are called to love our enemies, not hate them, as difficult as this is.”
St. Peter speaks to us today about the coming of the Lord and our preparing for his coming and he counsels us, “what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” (2Pet 3,11ff) We need to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming by seeking peace, a peace that only comes when we can turn away from selfishness, entitlement and hatred and turn toward a genuine love – a love that we receive as a gift from the Lord. Isaiah reminds us of the comfort of the Lord who comes as a gentle shepherd to feed his flock and carry his lambs in his bosom and lead his ewes with care. We can love because God has first loved us. In prayer we can experience this love of God for all of us. By gazing at the gentle face of God in prayer, contemplating his saving works, we can fill our interior being with the love that he pours into our hearts through the gift of his Holy Spirit. This is our Advent hope that will not be disappointed. God’s love and mercy lead us to an experience of forgiveness of our sins and once we have experienced forgiveness then we know deep in our hearts that we must forgive one another and stop clinging to our hurts and hatreds.