Each year at Advent, the church offers us the opportunity to listen to the prophets of the Old Testament whose promise of a Messiah filled the people with hope at times of hopelessness. The Old Testament promise was fulfilled at the first coming of Christ into our world whose birth we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas.
Advent also invites us to make ready for His second coming, and to make room in our hearts for His arrival here and now--the Third Coming of Christ. It is with deep trust in God’s unconditional love for us that we acknowledge our failings in the presence of each other and seek his forgiveness.
John the Baptist is the great prophet of the New Testament who calls us to ready our hearts. John is the Prophet of Joy and the Forerunner of the Messiah.
God of mercy and compassion, as we come together to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, may the truth of His word bring love and hope to the darkness in our lives. Help us to bring down the hills and fill up the valleys, to straighten the crooked and to smooth out the rough until a highway runs right to our hearts, where Christ will make His home, for He lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.
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, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
The Word of God comes to us in the concrete realities of life — even as we go about our daily work, as we raise our families and build our societies, and sometimes when we find ourselves in the wilderness. Hearing the Word of God requires that we listen. So I ask myself:
- Do I pray every day?
- Do I go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation?
- Are there things in my life that get in the way of God’s word for me?
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
God has given us the holy sacraments as vehicles of His grace — we hear the Word of God in the celebration of the sacraments.
- How long has it been since my last confession?
- Do I prepare myself to receive communion?
- Do I ever think about or let myself be inspired by the promises of my baptism and confirmation?
- Do I keep the vows of my marriage or ordination?
- Do I visit the sick?
John said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”
- God has given me the gift of faith. Do I take it for granted?
- Do I look down on people of other religions, or on those who have no religion?
- Do I think I’m better than anyone else?
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
Sometimes I need God’s guidance. Do I ask for it? Do I listen?
John said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
- Do I have a tendency to hoard and possess what is not necessary and still yearn to have more?
- What brings me contentment and security?
- Am I generous with my money and contribute whenever I can to charities which help to alleviate poverty?
- Do I make time in my schedule for other people?
- Do I reach out to the lonely?
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.
We long for the salvation of God. We long to understand the meaning of our existence, to see an end to our problems, to receive God’s help in our suffering. We long to know that we are loved.
- Do I dare to hope in God?
- Do I trust God in my weakness? And come to God in my strength?
- Do I show love?
John answered them all, saying: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.”
Sometimes we have other gods besides the one true God. Sometimes we take it into our heads that salvation comes from our own will power and discipline, from some political party or program or some political messiah, from some philosophy or from wealth, comfort, food or entertainment.
- Who or what is my god?
- Am I humble before the Lord?
- Do I long to receive the baptism of God’s fire?
Exhorting them in many other ways, John preached good news to the people.
- What is my attitude towards the most vulnerable in the community?
- How compassionate am I towards those who have personal struggles?
- As an employer, do I treat my employees with respect and equality? As a parent? As a teacher? As a person of influence?
- As an employee, am I trustworthy and honest? As a son or daugher? As a student? As a citizen?
- In my relationships, am I self-centred?
- Am I more concerned with satisfying my personal needs than putting the needs of others first?
Now Herod the tetrarch, who had been censured by John because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil deeds Herod had committed, added still another crime to his list by putting John in prison.
John the Baptist was a messenger of God, a prophet preparing the way for the coming of the Saviour by encouraging the people to repent. Prophets are often ridiculed, persecuted or simply ignored. As we strive to witness to the values of the Gospel in today’s society, we too, are likely to meet ridicule and ignorance.
We will be challenged by the prophets of our times, and tempted, in our turn, to ignore them, ridicule them or cheer their persecution.
- How do I react to such experiences?
- Do I easily ‘give in’ and compromise my values by finding ways to avoid the challenges?
- Do I resent it when some members of the Church call upon me to change my attitudes or preconceptions?
- Who and what helps me during the difficult moments of my life?
John the Baptist was the herald of the Messiah and made him known when at last he came. In his love Christ has filled us with joy as we prepare to celebrate his birth, so that when he comes he may find us watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise.