Today we have one of the most beautiful, hope-filled, comfort producing readings in the Book of the prophet Isaiah. Through the voice of Isaiah, God offers words of consolation and comfort to the People of Israel. The text begins with God announcing that the time of punishment is over and that the time for comfort has come. God begins the transformation of his relationship with the People by leveling the land so that it is easier for the People of Israel to find their way. The highways and pathways will be evened out and this act alone will signal God’s presence. Good news is to be announced from the mountain tops – so that everyone can hear. God, the all-powerful arm of God, has come to liberate the People of Israel, to feed the People of Israel, to comfort and to lead the People of Israel to a place of safety.
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear how John is coming to prepare the way for Jesus. John invites the people of Israel to repentance. In John’s mind, repentance is not about punishment rather repentance makes room for forgiveness and enables people to hear God speak. People were impressed with John’s message and his ministry but John, in response to their praise says, “Whoa! It is not about me. It is about the Messiah. Someone is coming after me, and in comparison, I am nothing! I baptize with water, he will give you the Holy Spirit!” For the People of Israel, only God can give the Holy Spirit! Receiving the Spirit of God was a sign that God had chosen you for a special mission!
In Peter’s letter to the early Christian community, Peter reminds his people that God’s ways are different than their ways. He reminds them that they need to prepare themselves for their life with God. Peter suggests that as they wait for Christ’s return they need to make choices about how they act, what they say and what they do. He reminds them that this world is temporary. Something new is coming and they need to make room for it in their lives.
As I prayed with these texts I was struck by Peter’s desire to help the people realize that how they lived their lives speaks volumes about their understanding of God.
From early on in life we figure out that if we say one thing we get rewarded and if we say another we get punished. We learn rather quickly what to do to please people. We often use that insight in our relationship with God. I see it often when I ask people to describe God, who God is and what God does, when I ask them to describe their faith. When they examine their words about their faith and their life choices they find a gap. We all do. There is a gap between what we say we believe and what we do to manifest our faith. The God we actually believe in is revealed in our actions – what we are willing to do for God and for others and for ourselves. Our daily life choices and our religious practices ought to challenge us to do something about the gap that is present in our lives.
Isaiah reminds us that God does not want to make life difficult for us. God wants to make our pathways smooth – God does not want us to suffer, to experience pain, sadness and sorrow. God wants to comfort us, to take care of us, to heal us.
The way to experience the comfort of God is for us to align our life choices with our God. In simple terms we are to turn away from our sin and to do good things. John the Baptist called the People of Israel to repentance. We too are called to repentance – that means turning away from sin and doing good. That means we have to pay attention to how we interact with creation, how we interact with our sisters and brothers, how we manage our personal life and how we manage our relationship with God.
Advent is a time of preparation. Sacred Scripture calls us to take a look into the future – what are we preparing for? On the one hand we are living here and now – 80-90 years here on earth, but as Peter reminds us, that is nothing compared to our life in God. This is a wonderful life but it is not our destination. This life is passing away and we ought to be preparing for eternal life with God. To prepare for our life with God involves developing our relationship with God, turning away from what I want and considering who God is and what God wants.
Healthy relationships happen when we understand each other. If I make life all about me then I am missing out on the other. John tells us, turn away from yourself, recognize God – make room for God. Making room for God takes work and it takes deliberate choices. We make room for God by making room for other people – practicing patience, kindness, generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, and concern for others.
As Catholics we are often very respectful of our Church Building, of rosaries and crosses and bibles and the Body and Blood of Jesus. That is good/great and to be encouraged. Today, Isaiah, John and Peter invite us to take that reverence and respect and direct towards the world around us – the world we live in, the people we live with and meet every day! Today we are invited to see ourselves as precious to God. We are so precious in fact that God is sending his Son into the world to comfort us, to smooth our pathways, to heal us and to lead us home. We are so precious that God sent John to prepare the way so that we have every opportunity to see, welcome and receive Jesus. We are so precious to God that Peter spends his life reminding us of what is expected of us.
As this week unfolds I pray that we will wake up every day, look in the mirror and see how precious we are and then as our day unfolds we will look at the people we live with and work with and recognize how precious they are. I pray that the things we say, but more importantly the things we do, will give witness to our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI