Sunday, 7 December 2008

Tonight Rob Smith gave the second Advent reflection. Here it is:
Some words from the third chapter of the prophet Malachi: ‘Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way for me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple, and the angel of the covenant whom you are looking for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord’.
Throughout the Advent season the insights of the Old Testament prophets provide us with a picture of the long-awaited Messiah – he is described as being a light in our darkness, a shepherd of the flock, a child born to save us, and a maker of peace. They also provide a description of his arrival in the world: Isaiah tells us that ‘the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel. On curds and honey he will feed until he knows how to refuse evil and choose good’.
At mass this morning we heard Isaiah tell us that we need to make ready for the coming of the Messiah: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’. St Mark’s Gospel tells of another herald of that same message. He is our own patron: St John the Baptist. John appeared in the Jordan desert proclaiming the need for repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the immanent arrival of the Saviour, the Messiah, of whom he was not worthy to untie the sandals of.
It can be just as hard for us to understand the Baptist today as it was for the people of Judea two thousand years ago. We, like them, would find it difficult to take seriously someone clothed in camel’s hair ranting at passers by to be washed of their sins by being immersed in a muddy river. Sometimes we find ourselves asking: Why was John’s message so necessary and why didn’t Jesus just begin his mission and ministry without waiting for him?
Some people find it helpful to view John as being something like a potter. They believe that we as humans need to be ‘softened up’, so to speak, just as clay has to be manipulated before being moulded. Jesus’ life and teaching was going to have such radical implications for the people of Israel, that John was needed to prepare the people to accept Jesus’ life-giving message.
We might say that John is the voice of Advent; he is the voice that heralds the coming of the Lord for us today, not by building a highway in the desert though, but by preparing the hearts of all who are willing to hear him and repent. The word ‘repent’ means to turn around, to change direction, to face a new way and begin to walk on that way. It means to leave the old way behind: to walk with Christ from the wilderness to the Promised Land.
The wilderness that we face two thousand years after the time of John the Baptist is not a physical desert; it’s not just something ‘outside’ and far away. It’s something near: it is inside us. Something contained in our hearts. It is created by our actions and inactions. What we do and what we fail to do.
However, we are influenced by things that are on the outside and they can, particularly in the run up to Christmas, point out just how barren or unfruitful our present way is. The continual rounds of shopping, meetings, and, for some of us more than others, partying, exhaust us physically and emotionally.
During this busy season we need to make some time to stop; to create a time and space for Christ each day, so that he can come to us afresh this Christmas with his light, his healing, and his peace. The Repentance John asks us to undertake is not about beating our breasts and bewailing our sins, it is about turning around and making more time for the things that draw us nearer to Christ. Perhaps we could attend more weekday masses, come into Church for sacred space or, as Fr Ivan suggested on Bible Sunday, read the Scriptures, perhaps with the guidance of the little booklet Walk with Me that’s at the back of the Church (if there are any left....).
This coming week let us also remember the people who have been the ‘John the Baptists’ in our own faith journeys, our predecessors and our benefactors, God’s messengers, who helped us to stay on the right path through the difficult times in our lives. As we look forward to the coming year, our year of mission, may Christ also give us the grace to serve as his messengers, so that we can continue to fulfil our baptismal promise and truly ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’. Amen.

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