Category Archives: Advent

God is not bound by Our Ideas

4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT.
Cycle B.
24th December 2017
Deacon Tony van Vuuren

Here we are celebrating the fourth Sunday of Advent and also Christmas Eve on the same day!  I feel like I’m being cheated out of a week’s worth of Advent!

Mary has hardly had time to absorb the news of her pregnancy, and baby Jesus is about to nestle into her loving arms, at least liturgically.  A reminder to us that the mysteries we celebrate and reflect on are interconnected and timeless.

In the first reading we find King David, having overcome his enemies and secured his kingdom, relaxing and dreaming of building a more suitable “dwelling for God”.

It sounded very praiseworthy and to begin with the prophet Nathan was persuaded to give the project his blessing. But David’s real motive was to glorify himself and to bolster the institution of the monarchy. What he was really planning to do, in effect, was to assume control of Israel’s religion, to contain and institutionalise God, so that the royal court could determine the way that people understood God and the way he acted in history. It was an attempt to use God to reinforce his own position as king.

According to the authors of the book of Samuel, God reacted to this by reasserting his freedom. God refuses to play up to David’s man-made image of what God should be like. Instead he reveals what he’s really like and what he wills through the words of the prophet Nathan by dissociating himself from David’s royal religion. It doesn’t matter how many other kings build fancy temples for their gods, he says. Not this God, and therefore not this King.

In the gospel passage we find Luke relating another instance of God acting in history, not in the grandiose and majestic way that we might think is appropriate for the deity, but in his own free and unpredictable way.

It so happened that at the time when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that God had chosen her to bear his Son the Messiah, the latest King; King Herod, was in the middle of building another vast Temple in Jerusalem.

Again, although the ostensible idea was to glorify God, Herod had his own political reasons for building a new Temple. And while all that was going on, God’s greatest revelation of himself was taking place somewhere else, far away from Herod’s inflated schemes, in conditions that were far removed from what conventional religion would have considered appropriate or acceptable.
First of all, God chose to appear, and to become human, not in Jerusalem, in the great capital and religious centre of Israel, but in Nazareth, a tiny, obscure town of about 150 people in Galilee.

From the point of view of respectable religion, the town had a bad name. The people there had a reputation of being lapsed, as we might say, and of being infected with pagan ideas and practices. That was why later on in Jesus’ ministry, people laughed when they heard that he came from Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was the rhetorical question.

Second, the fact that God chose to communicate his plan of salvation first of all to a woman would have been offensive to pious and respectable Jews of the time. In Jewish society at that time women didn’t have any real rights of citizenship or legal status. Last of all, the idea of the long-awaited Messiah being conceived outside of marriage – which is after all what happened – would also have been an affront to conventional attitudes.

Even in the slack religious atmosphere of Nazareth Mary would have been in danger of being stoned as an adulteress, if Joseph hadn’t promised to marry her so quickly.

So the lesson of these readings, it seems to me, is a lesson about God’s freedom to act in the way that he thinks best. God isn’t compelled to act through channels that we deem appropriate, or appear in the places we dictate.

Whenever God has wanted to communicate something more about himself, he’s never felt that he had to conform to our human expectations of how he should reveal himself. He’s always worked in circumstances, and through the people, that he chose. In doing so he has often overturned self-serving human notions of what the divine character is like.

It’s a warning, in a sense, against every tendency towards becoming a religious bureaucrat or a religious busybody: that so often, while we’re busy constructing our modern versions of David’s temple, or Herod’s temple, trying to control the way that God is presented to people, with the real motive of glorifying ourselves, God is active in another, unexpected place, with a completely different set of people, carrying out his real work of salvation.

Mary had no idea what her “yes” would mean for the future, but she said “yes” because she knew that God’s grace would sustain her through whatever that might be. As we ponder how fully we are able to say “yes” at this point in our lives, let us ask our Blessed Mother to help us be all we are meant to be, relying on God’s grace as she did. Inspired by her example, may we have the grace and courage to respond openly and whole-heartedly to God’s invitation to serve him.

Yes, Mary’s life was difficult, but she was right: God’s grace will sustain us. That is true through the hardest of times as well as when the smallest of things challenge our peacefulness the most.

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Stay awake this Advent

1st Sunday Advent
Year B
3 Dec 2017
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

This weekend marks the start of the season of Advent and the start of a new liturgical year; Year B in the three year cycle. Advent is a uniquely special season in the year in which we are encouraged to reflectively re-evaluate our faith and the status of our spiritual relationship with God.

But the reality is that these next few weeks of Advent approaching Christmas are for many of us chaotic, stressful and taxing. Traffic, crowds, busy shopping centres, presents to buy, visiting family, Christmas lunch to plan, holiday arrangements to finalise, stretched budgets and frazzled nerves.

If we don’t make time to include some spiritual activity in Advent, the season will simply pass us by and before we know it, Easter will be upon us; and then winter and then another spring. Spiritually, we will have slept through it all. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus forewarns us about this very possibility: “Stay awake!” he says because we do not know how many seasons or even days we have available to us in this life to know, love and serve God.

Advent is a time of expectant waiting and spiritual preparation. The season anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives; past, present and future; in the flesh as a baby in Bethlehem, in our hearts every day and the Eucharist, and in glory at the end of time.

Advent is a time of hope.

We renew our hope by remembering that on that first Christmas night, God in the person of the baby Jesus became one of us to reveal God’s love for us and we renew our hope for a future time when Christ will come again. When we participate in the Mass, we give thanks that our hopes for a Messiah have been fulfilled and we profess our faith in our hope that is yet to be fulfilled; “we awaited the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

It’s a new year.
It’s a time to look back at that which has past and to look to the changes we want to make in the future.

But nothing will change in our hearts this Advent unless we consciously decide to make this season spiritually meaningful and significant.

There are a number of Advent traditions that can help keep us spiritually awake over these next few weeks.

We lit the first candle in the Advent wreath at the beginning of Mass and we could have a wreath at home. A few years ago I spent the week before Christmas in Vienna and I remember well that every shop, hotel and apartment in the city centre had an Advent wreath displayed prominently in a window or in the foyer.
The wreath is shaped in a circle and has no beginning or end – symbolizing the eternity of God’s love for us and eternal life that Christ has promised us.
The green branches remind us that Christ’s love remains fresh and strong even in the face of life’s most difficult challenges.

The candles representing the four Sundays of Advent represent the hope, peace, joy and love we desire as we anticipate Christmas.
We could keep an Advent calendar in our homes perhaps prompting a brief reflection each day on our eager expectation of the joy of Christmas.

From next weekend we’ll have the Nativity crib in the church and we could have a Nativity scene in our homes; perhaps a moment’s reflection on the crib each day will help keep us spiritually awake.

Every week for the next three weeks, we have an Advent activity planned in the church. We can make an effort to fit these services into our diaries:

  • Tuesday evening this week at 6.30pm we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for 30 minutes; only 30 minutes
  • On Wednesday next week at 7pm we have an introduction to the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary after which we’ll pray the Rosary together; probably no longer than 45 minutes
  • On Wednesday 20th at 7pm we have a penitential service. Advent is a time for reflecting on our weaknesses, our temptations and our struggles with sin; a time to place ourselves humbly in the redeeming grace and mercy of Our Lord. A time to let Christ’s light shine into the dark corners of our lives.

Here are a few other ideas for Advent:

  • If there’s an area of spiritual growth with which we are struggling, acknowledge it and pray for the courage and discipline to change.
  • If we find ourselves captive to thoughts, words or deeds that distance us from God, confess them and start again
  • If we’ve become estranged from someone we love (or perhaps loved), ask Our Lord to help us find the path to reconciliation
  • While we are shopping for our ourselves and our families we could remember those who have so much less than we do and buy something also for them
  • Our focus at Christmas is usually very much on our own families, on the people we love, we could remember in our prayers and in our charity those who have no one to love them
  • Is it too much to add just one decade of the Rosary, to our daily schedules? One decade takes about 3 minutes to pray.
  • Or maybe we could include a weekday Mass in our schedule?
    The frenetic rush to Christmas is upon us.

We cannot escape the traffic, the impatient crowds, the shopping frenzy and the piped Christmas Carols. But we do not have to be completely captive to this madness nor should we allow it to blunt our spiritual awareness of this special season.

For a moment or two every day through Advent we can remind ourselves that we are in a time of waiting, watching and hoping; hoping that when Our Lord comes, we will not be found fast asleep.

Sts. Joachim and Anne

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle B
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

The Gospel account for this 4th Sunday of Advent is Luke’s version of the Annunciation story. It is about Mary’s “yes “and what that meant to her, her family and for all humanity. It prompts us to reflect on how we live our lives as well.

Many people and images will have come to mind as we have journeyed through these three weeks of Advent: John the Baptist has been the main protagonist; and with the feast of the Nativity a couple of days away we know that Joseph and Mary are on the road to Bethlehem, the shepherds will be hurrying to the stable, the magi will be scanning the night sky for that wondrous star. But there is another couple who played a key role in Jesus’ birth: his grandparents, Joachim and Anne. How often do we think of them at this time?

Scripture tells us nothing about Mary’s parents; so perhaps that’s a good reason why we don’t think about them! Even their names come from a second-century document, the Gospel of St James that combines legendary material along with details that may well be historical. Still, there is a long tradition that celebrates this holy couple. They were entrusted with the mission of creating a loving, nurturing home environment for the girl who would become the virgin Mother of God. If we ponder Jesus’ birth with Anne and Joachim in mind, we have another perspective on the story of the Annunciation. Take, for instance, this familiar passage from the Gospel of Matthew, and read it from Joachim and Anne’s point of view: “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)

Were Mary’s parents the first ones to discover that she was “with child”? Maybe Mary confided the news to her mother as they did laundry together or baked bread in the outdoor oven in the family courtyard. It’s not impossible! In Mary’s culture, a young woman in her early teens would surely have been living with her parents?

Unfortunately the Gospels focus on the essentials of the story without filling in the details, so we don’t know how Anne and Joachim reacted to Mary’s pregnancy. Still, we can imagine various scenarios. Maybe they regretted arranging a good marriage for their daughter. Maybe they were confused, disappointed, or angry at first. Did they shelter her or shun her? Since we honor Joachim and Anne as saints, their joint feast day being July 26th, we can assume that like Joseph, they were guided by the Spirit to the right conclusion and came to support Mary in her courageous YES. But surely this unexpected development took some getting used to! Within our own families, the announcement of any birth—whether shocking or not—requires us to make adjustments. The challenge of Mary’s pregnancy addresses each of us, too. It calls us to ask: “Am I ready to adjust my life to welcome Jesus this Advent? Can I let the celebration of his birth bring me something new, something more than what I expected from God last year—or five years ago?”

As we think about Joachim and Anne awaiting this one-of-a-kind grandson, perhaps we will gain new openness to God’s surprises this Christmas. Anne and Joachim are often invoked as patrons of married couples who struggle with infertility. This is because the ancient manuscript depicts them as having been childless for decades. According to this source, the couple sought God’s intervention for a very long time, begging him together for the gift of a child. Waiting for God to answer our prayers is an experience we can all relate to. What examples come to mind in your own life? How long have you waited? A month? A year? Five years? Have you waited and prayed alone, or have you had the support of a spouse or a friend? Are you waiting on God to answer a prayer right now? Maybe there is someone we could invite to pray along with us.

Surely Anne and Joachim prayed together, just as Abraham and Sarah, and Zechariah and Elizabeth must have done. In the end, this couple’s long, shared journey of faith-filled waiting only added to their joy when Mary was born. According to an old tradition, they presented her in the Temple, filled with thanksgiving at what God had done for them.

Whatever the facts of their lives, the truth is that it would have been Mary’s parents who nurtured her, taught her, brought her up to be a worthy Mother of God. It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith’ “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. This is a key point for all of us. For in the final analysis, faith is not some­thing we drum up on our own. It’s a gift given to us by a gracious, gen­erous God. It’s a grace that he pours into us, a potent seed that is wait­ing to be planted into the soil of our hearts. We may think we have weak faith, but the truth is God has given us all the faith we will ever need. We just have to learn how to yield to this great gift. May these holy grandparents teach us how to be open to God’s surprises. May they teach us the blessings of patience and faithfulness. And may they help us see that we are all part of the large, wonderful story of God’s love for his people!

Ref: Theresa Boucher

Are We Ready?

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle B
December 1014
Dcn Tony Van Vuuren.

John the Baptist was the last of the great line of prophets, and in fact Israel’s biggest hit as a prophet since Elijah, the prophet who called down fire from heaven nine centuries earlier. So what drew massive crowds to a finger pointing hermit dressed in animal skins?

It was his call for repentance and peace. When John told his listeners to turn away from sin, he offered them something in return. He offered them fresh hope with promises of restoration.

God wanted to do more than just pardon their offences. He wanted to open the floodgates of heaven and shower them with His Holy Spirit. By this Spirit, God wanted to bring His people to a new level of healing, reconciliation and peace.

Clearly, John the Baptist was a mighty man of God.

He was an ambassador called to prepare the way of the Lord by pointing the people to Jesus. But as charismatic as John must have been to attract the crowds that he did, he was still the #2 man, the supporting actor. He knew his role and fulfilled it well.

He did not get in the way of — the one who is coming after me, the thong of whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie — in fact John saw his role as simply making the paths straight for the Messiah.

The season of Advent is meant to be a time for us to hear John’s words and prepare our own hearts for the coming of Jesus as well. Each and every day, Jesus invites us to draw nearer to him so that we can develop and strengthen an intimate friendship with him and become holy, just as He is holy. What can hinder this intimacy?

Sin, fear, indifference to God, lack of compassion for others; these are some of the bigger obstacles that come to mind. And this is why John’s call to repentance is so important to us today; it isn’t just about this or that sin we have committed. Repentance involves total change.

We must change our ways of thinking and redirect our lives. He invites us to confess our sins. But that doesn’t merely earn God’s coming into our lives; instead repentance heightens our awareness, and sharpens our perception of what is about to happen.

John assures us that Christ is coming to begin something new in us and repentance clears the clutter of our lives so we are free to receive him when he does come. God wants to free us from everything that holds us back from surrendering to His love and His will.

Through repentance, He wants to lead us out of guilt, alienation, and shame into a state of joy and freedom. When we repent, the gates of heaven are opened to us, and our relationship with God is restored and deepened.

In repentance, we remove the veil of confusion and deception, which sin weaves in our hearts and minds, and we are enabled to see the beauty of God’s truth and goodness; and we catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom; a vision that fills our hearts with hope.

This Advent, let’s take the time to examine our lives in the light of God’s truth and His love. Let’s not avoid the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but embrace it for all the grace and power it offers to us.

Each day during Advent, a quiet review of our personal progress will help us to see where along the road we are. St Peter writes that righteousness and peace will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth of the Kingdom.

Are we a part of making that Kingdom happen? Because Advent is also a season which demands that we ask ourselves, as individuals and as a community, the question: ‘what in my life, in my family, in my community, in my country, needs to turn around if I am to recognize the Lord when he comes in this Christmas season – and when he comes at the end of my time?’

How will we account for the use of the life and the talents He has given us?

In the words of today’s psalm; “when the Lord comes, ‘justice shall march before him.”

How do we need to turn around our attitudes, turn our thinking upside down, and repent so that Justice and Peace can be the signs of the Lord’s coming?

The injustices in today’s world are numerous; seen both from a personal and societal viewpoint. Each list is long. So many of us are just so tired of all the broken-ness. We are waiting and longing for peace in our hearts, in our families, in our land, and in our World.

Perhaps all of us fit that description to some extent; one way or another.

Each of us needs the Lord’s personal intervention; but sometimes the wait seems endless. Who of us doesn’t sometimes feel that the Lord is in “pause” mode or has hit the “delete” button after hearing our pleas? Many of us become discouraged and often look elsewhere for answers, because we think the Lord has stamped “delay” on our requests.

The Change that we all need the most (and this is not in any way a political point) is not a different presence up here at Groote Schuur, or in parliament, but a different Presence (with a capital P) in our hearts.

This Advent we need to pray that it may begin with us.

St Francis of Assisi was asked by one of his brothers what he would do if he knew the Lord was coming tomorrow. He replied; “Nothing different. I will just keep hoeing my garden.” No changes necessary; he was ready for Jesus. Are we?

C.S. Lewis said; ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end; those who say to God, “Thy will be done.” And those to whom God says in the end “All right then have it your way!”

We Are Advent People

3rd Sunday Of Advent
Cycle A.
Matthew 11:2-11
Tony van Vuuren.

Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday; liturgically a day of Rejoicing in the middle of Advent. Yet it is also the day that South Africa mourns as Madiba is buried and the gospel story tells us of John the Baptist languishing in a damp, dark and depressive prison cell where the news of Jesus’ preaching reaches him. He is baffled by what he hears. Jesus does not meet his expectations. John had predicted a Messiah who would impose himself with the terrible force of the judgement of God, saving those who accepted baptism and condemning those who rejected it. The Jesus he now hears about is not the leader he had anticipated. 

 So who is this man?

To resolve his doubts, he sends a couple of his own disciples to Jesus who confront him with the question: ‘Are you the one who is to come?’

Jesus does not take offence at John’s weakening faith in him; but he does not give him a direct answer. He responds by talking about his healing work, his service of the sick, poor and unfortunate people whom he finds in the villages of Galilee, without resources or hope for a better life: ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’ Jesus knows that his answer may disappoint those, who like John, dream of a powerful, vengeful Messiah.

Jesus even adds a very gentle ‘swipe’ at John when he says:

‘And happy is the man who does not lose faith in me!’

On the other hand, Jesus shows loudly and clearly that he has not lost any faith in John, is not the least disillusioned with John. In fact, he pays him the highest tribute: ‘I tell you … of all the children born of women, no greater than John the Baptist has ever been seen.’

John is the last and the greatest of the OT prophets. Over and over again he speaks the truth of God clearly and eloquently, speaks it without fear or favour. And he has paid the price for doing so by being thrown into prison where any day now the command will come from the king: ‘Off with his head!’

 To know Jesus, it is best to see who he goes to and what he loves to do. To understand clearly his identity, it is not enough to acknowledge theoretically that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. One must also identify with his way of being the Messiah, which is nothing less than to relieve suffering, to heal lives, and to open a horizon of hope for the poor; and that means all of us. We are all poor in one way or another! Let us remember those who lack the basic necessities of life.  Let us remember those who are deeply saddened by circumstances they cannot change.  Let us remember those among us who have a poverty of spirit because of whatever the circumstances of their lives

In the light of today’s gospel message, where do we all stand in regard to our faith and hope in Jesus? One hears so often of friends and family members dropping out of active membership in the parish community for whatever reason. Hopefully they will join us for the Christmas services, but after that they’ll go their own way again. Life without Christ can be a pretty empty, lonely, superficial, unsatisfactory, unfulfilled, even bitter kind of life. Perhaps right now our own faith in Christ is under some strain. Perhaps life in the community here at St Michael’s has not been as rewarding and helpful as we had hoped. Perhaps someone has let us down, disappointed us. Perhaps our prayers seem to have gone unanswered.                                    

Whatever the reason, let’s remember that Jesus is the reason for the season, this season of Advent & Christmas, this season of hope!

We are an Advent people who live in hope and trust in God’s promises. As followers of Jesus we are also a continuation of His presence in the world. What He said about Himself and His ministry of healing to the blind, lame, lepers etc; is now up to us to continue. The Advent scriptures ask us to live the mystery of Christ in our time.

It is clear from Jesus’ response to John that he did not withdraw from engagement with the world and live in a cave in the desert as John did; nor was He going to form a military band of rebels to overthrow the Roman occupiers.                                                                              

What He did do; was confront the world’s evils through healing and forgiveness. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when the people of Galilee came into contact with Christ. 

 Now we, His Church, are to “go and tell” what we have seen and heard in Christ.                                                      

We do this by: reaching out by example to friends and family who have turned away from Christ; by giving sight to those who cannot see; by enabling the physical and emotionally crippled; communicating with those who are disenfranchised by church and society; finding ways to give value to human life and in so doing become, like Jesus, good news to the poor and oppressed.

In our Holy Communion with him today, let us commit ourselves to not only saying but also meaning that prayer we will share: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.’

Healed enough to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk!

Reflecting on the significance of lighting the pink candle of joy on this Gaudete Sunday we probably think of the more secular definition of joy which may be simply an intense form of happiness; religious joy however is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God and our relationship with Him. The ultimate response to the good news is joy, one that is lasting and can endure even in the midst of difficulties. But this does not mean that Christians are always happy. Sadness is a natural response to pain, suffering and tragedy in life. It is human, natural and even, in a way, desirable: sadness in response to a tragic event shows that one is emotionally alive. If we were not sad from time to time, we would be something less than human.

I share with you this extract from an article by Brian Purfield where he quotes one of the international journalists here to cover Madiba’s funeral; Fergal Keane, who writes that his final enduring memory of Nelson Mandela is one of joy. On the night of 2 May 1994 the ANC had won a comprehensive victory. On a stage, surrounded by his closest advisors, Nelson Mandela did the Madiba shuffle and waved to the crowd. He smiled the open, generous smile of a man who had lived to see his dream.

On this Gaudete Sunday, the reading from James reminds us to ‘be patient…until the coming of the Lord.’ When John hears of the healing work of Jesus among the sick, the poor and the lame, he surely knows that the One he has been waiting patiently for all his life has come. Like Isaiah, he had longed to ‘see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.’ I would like to think that sitting in his dark cell John also smiled the open, generous smile of a man who had lived to see his dream come true.

Ref: Brian Purfield.

What Then Shall We Do?

The Third Sunday Of Advent
Cycle C
16th December 2012
Zeph 3: 14-18. Phil. 4; 4-7 Luke 3: 10-18.
Dcn Tony van Vuuren

In the midst of Advent the dominant message this weekend is an invitation to “Rejoice.”
All the readings are about forgiveness, authentic good news and how to embrace the peace of God. Reason enough for us to rejoice whilst listening and participating in the liturgy with a sense of exultation, joy, thanksgiving, peace and expectation.
The prophet Zephaniah, in the first reading, who is uncharacteristically exuberant for someone who is recognized as a grumpy prophet of doom, tells of the Lord’s forgiveness, the “removing of judgment” from those whose sins led to the destruction of Jerusalem. In our time, we need to hear that we, too, are forgiven, for whatever reason(s) we have turned away from God, either briefly or over a very long time. There is also a message about those we love who, “have fallen away from the faith”: we must remember, and maybe try and remind them, that they are still within the loving kindness of God.
At this time of year, when families are foremost in our minds, this salve is often much needed.
Jesus came to save us because we were (and aren’t) in a position to do so ourselves. This is really
Good News about ourselves and those we love. Our response should be true rejoicing, with a quiet, blessed assurance and peace that comes from within that can only be initiated by the Lord.
The prophet promises that the “The Lord is in your midst”; a time of joy also for those who have kept vigilant and not stopped hoping in God.
Which is what we should be praying for and waiting for this Advent: God’s imminent arrival; our sins washed away; our flagging and limp spirits and routine religious practices given new life by a fresh breath of God’s Spirit. We pray this Advent for an open heart, ready to hear the good news and receive our God, who is always ready and willing to come.
Both the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians and the Gospel selection from Luke tell us more ways to respond to this Good News. They tell us what to do and what not to do in everyday situations. These readings are a realistic road map for living the life of someone who has been released from a very heavy judgment. While we may not literally be tax collectors or soldiers, we can definitely live by the principles John the Baptist laid out in his words to them and to the crowd in general.
John seems to have calmed down. In the verses preceding today’s Gospel, John, never a smooth diplomat, has called those listening to him a brood of vipers. He charged them with trying to escape from the wrath that was soon to come rather than repenting. That got their attention, so they now ask him, “What then shall we do?”
Perhaps they expected John to put a heavy burden on them, call for repentance accompanied by highly visible and arduous proofs of a change of heart.
John’s response to their anxious question, “What then shall we do?” is disarmingly simple: he calls them and us to live good and faithful lives. He calls them to change their ways; to live upright lives in the places they live and work. He’s not telling them to go off to live in the desert, but to live honest lives where they are. Once they have changed their dishonest ways, straightened out their lives, then they will be ready to receive the one who is coming.
The Baptist is telling us to be faithful to our roles in life—be good parents and honest workers; treat people justly. If we have authority and power over someone (“tax collectors”) don’t take advantage of them. Be fair and help those in need. We are to be honest people, characterized by lives of integrity; we should not take advantage of anyone and must treat them with respect. John calls us to be satisfied with what we have— and to do something for those who have not.

We cannot just sit here and listen to his message, and then hastily return to our little comfort zones. We must show by our actions that we have internalized it. We cannot claim privilege and access to God merely because we come to mass every weekend or even every day. Nor can we as Christians expect a special place or favor merely because we belong to a church. John tells us, we must do deeds that reflect what we have received and what we believe. We cannot put off to another time the serious self examination he is asking us to do.
John says he is only, “baptizing with water, but one mightier than I is coming.” He is calling for a change of behavior, starting with repentance and following through with actions. In Christ all will be new and His baptism will be with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” That’s what we need if we are to sustain our commitment to Christ for the long haul—“the Holy Spirit and fire.” Then our acts of love and service for the sake of the Gospel will not be done just to curry favor from God. The Holy Spirit “fires” our desire, determination and energy to a full time, life long service.
The gestures we make towards fulfilling John’s instructions become prayer-like. We say in effect: “I am showing in my daily life that I want to change.” Our daily actions of generosity and concern for others this Advent are a form of the “prayer and supplication” Paul describes. We can’t force God’s hand; we serve and we wait.
Advent is about the coming of Christ, the coming of the Messiah. But it is also just as much about our preparations for that coming—waiting patiently for God’s Kingdom is something to be looked forward to with Joy, while at the same time making the more active and practical adjustments that are needed to comply with the justice and the holiness of that Kingdom.

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.