On the one hand, salvation is God’s doing, and we cannot earn His blessings. We are saved by His grace. On the other hand, we must cooperate with God’s grace because God cannot force his bounty upon us. That is why John the Baptist in today’s Gospel summons us to play our essential part by leading lives of repentance, conversion, and renewal, thus preparing the way for the Lord’s second coming. We start this process by spiritually preparing for the annual celebration of Christmas, the Lord’s first coming, as we reform and renew our lives by repentance and works of charity.
The first reading describes how God will reform the lives of His Chosen People by sending the Messiah. Because of the bad example of the unfaithful successors of King David, the Chosen People were wavering in their loyalty to Yahweh. Hence, in the first reading, the Lord God, through His prophet, Isaiah, tries to dispel their fears and to stir up hope among His people with His promise of a new Davidic King (a son of Jesse), who will establish peace and a glorious Kingdom of justice on earth.
In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 72), the Psalmist pictures the Messiah as one who will show compassion to the poor, the lowly, and the afflicted. In the second reading, Paul is praying for the reformation of the Jewish Christians of Rome and instructing them to draw endurance and encouragement from the Old Testament books. They are to live in harmony with Gentile Christians, accepting them as equals, brothers and sisters, while they wait together for the second coming of Jesus.
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptizer urges the Pharisees and Sadducees to give evidence that they mean to reform their lives so as to recognize and be ready to meet and accept the promised Messiah. He challenges them to repentance, conversion, and renewal. He tells the common people, who expect the Messiah to come soon, to act with justice and charity, letting their lives reflect the transformation that will occur when the Messiah enters their lives. In the same way, as we prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas, John advises us to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
1) We need to prepare for Christ’s coming by allowing him to be reborn daily in our lives: Advent is the time for us to make this preparation by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives through prayer, penance, and the sharing of our blessings with others. Let us humbly admit the truth with the German mystic Angelus Silesius “Christ could be born a thousand times in Bethlehem – but all in vain until He is born in me.” He means that Jesus must be reborn in our heart during this season of Advent and every day of our lives, radiating his love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and spirit of humble service to the world through our lives.
2) We need to answer the call for a change of life. John the Baptist challenges our superficial attempts at change, demanding that, while we are obeying the commandments faithfully, we must correct our relationships with others, mend ruptures, soothe frictions, face family responsibilities, work honestly, and treat our employers and employees justly. Let us share our love with others as selfless and humble service. “Do small things but with great love” advise St. Theresa of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Therefore, following John’s advice, let us celebrate the memory of Jesus’ first advent, prepare for Jesus’ daily advent into our lives through the Sacraments and the Bible, and wait confidently for his second advent at our death and/or at the end of the world.
By Fr. Tony Kadavil