Are We Really Willing?

2nd Sunday Advent Year C
9 Dec 2012
Les Ruhrmund

As the journey of Advent continues, as we prepare to celebrate the nativity of Christ, the readings speak of God’s intervention in the salvation of humankind; a calling to return to faithfulness; a calling to renew our relationship with God.

The book of Baruch, who was Jeremiah’s secretary or scribe, was probably edited in the form that we have it today about 200 years before Christ. It’s a poetic meditation on the experience of being in exile in Babylon and the text we heard in the first reading is part of a poem about the return to Jerusalem of the Diaspora – the Jews who had remained in permanent exile in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Jerusalem is personified as a mother mourning for her lost children who were taken away to foreign lands by their enemies and he encourages her to prepare for the end of her sorrow and see the joyful return of her children, as on a royal throne. In our mind’s eye, we can imagine the people approaching Jerusalem, the Holy City, from every direction rejoicing that God has remembered them.

For them the return to Jerusalem was voluntary – there was no longer anything to keep them away; nothing to stop them from returning to the Holy City. Their destiny was in their own hands; just as our destiny is in our own hands. The choices we make today determine our eternal destiny.

The Holy Father’s call to us in this Year of Faith is to rediscover the journey of faith; a summons to a renewed conversion; to an authentic change in our lives.

We hear echoes of this call in the Gospel reading.

Luke tells us that John the Baptist went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, preaching repentance and conversion; preaching a change of heart and conduct, a turning of one’s life from rebellion to obedience towards God.

Do these words really have any meaning to us?

Do they resonate in our hearts with an urgency that motivates us to take action?

Or do the words just pass us by – “It’s Advent again …..and I’ve heard this all before.”

Or perhaps – “I have tried to change ….. but it’s almost impossible.”

What is needed is a belief in the possible rather than our surrender to the seemingly impossible. What is needed is our willingness to believe. Much of our religious life depends primarily upon our willingness — not on the willingness of God. God’s willingness is already given. But we have to believe and be willing to live lives that reflect that belief.

Repentance and conversion is a choice; it’s a willingness to change.

Hearing John’s cry, people filled the valleys of their dark despair with the light of hope. Lives that were crooked were straightened out and lives that appeared to be terribly rough were made smooth.

We all have seemingly insurmountable mountains in our lives and we all at some time have walked in the dark shadows of the valley. And on our faith journey perhaps we have experienced the exhilaration of being on top of a high mountain or the oppressive burden of the mountains on our spirit as we try and find the light. And in these highs and lows we have perhaps try to find God or we have blamed God or we have simply forgotten about God; forgotten that God is always God and doesn’t change with the wind or the altitude.

We on the other hand are inclined to let our moods, our feelings, our emotions determine our closeness to or remoteness from the Lord, our God.

The key is our willingness; a new willingness to believe the incredible truth of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and the seemingly impossible truth of his love through his Passion, Death and Resurrection in Jerusalem.

It’s a matter of will. It’s an act of choice. It’s like love. Love is something we choose to do. Affection is something we feel. Faith and seeking the Lord are something that we choose to do. Religious sentiment is something that we feel. Some people only come to Mass when they feel like it – instead of choosing to come in spite of their feelings.

Willingness to make the right choice makes us strong and gives us the power to act courageously and correctly. When we are at the mercy of our feelings and moods, we are weak and powerless.

The words of John the Baptist calling us to prepare the way of the Lord are words motivated for our own good.

Pope Benedict says that “Through the Gospel John the Baptist continues to speak down the centuries to each generation. His hard clear words bring health to us, the men and women of this day in which even the experience and perception of Christmas often, unfortunately, reflects materialist attitudes. The ‘voice’ of the great prophet asks us to prepare the way for the coming Lord in the deserts of today, internal and external deserts, thirsting for the water of life which is Christ.”

We prepare through repentance for the forgiveness of sins and conversion; through conscious acts of our wills. These are free choices made with deliberation. They are not religious feelings or moods. They are not the nice, warm, mystical feelings that come upon us before flickering candles or fill our hearts when we sing our happy songs. Repentance and conversion are conscious acts of the will made in the cold harsh light of the reality of our lives and the world in which we live.

Are we willing to look again at our lives?

Are we willing to seek forgiveness for our sins?

Are we willing to change?

It’s never just a matter of feeling like it.

It’s a matter of willingness.

It’s not up to God; it’s up to us – with God’s grace.

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