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The Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2018


    
Advent always seems short to me. I know it doesn’t seem short to kids who can’t wait for Christmas, but it does to me. It seems too short for accomplishing the important work of Advent. And what is the work of Advent?  A look at today’s scriptures, with special focus on John the Baptist, is a good place to find out. John the Baptist is the great Advent preacher, the great Advent prophet.  To underline the Baptist’s importance, St. Luke introduces him with what one commentator calls “a chronological drumroll.” He presents him right alongside the great powers of the day, civil and religious, the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar; the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate; Herod the Tetrarch; and the high priests of the Jewish faith, Annas and Caiphas. It strikes me that John the Baptist, rough-hewn, humble man that he was, would have been quite surprised to find himself in that company, but there he is!

     Once he makes his appearance, we see John traveling throughout the whole region of the Jordan valley preaching to the people: preaching repentance, challenging people to be converted, to change their lives.  Something new is afoot, John tells them: God is about to move among them in new and powerful ways, and to drive his point home, he quotes the prophet Isaiah, giving contemporary urgency to ancient prophecy: “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he says, “Make straight his paths!”

     In those few words, John gives us the work of Advent – presents us with the perfect Advent ‘program’: we are to prepare the way of the Lord.  And how are we to do that?  By repenting, he tells us -- being converted, changing, turning our lives around.   Now I ask you: who of us couldn’t profit by doing that? Who of doesn’t need some conversion?

     Conversion can cover a lot of different bases. For some of us, conversion might simply mean reordering our priorities by putting Sunday Eucharist, Sunday Mass, at the center of our week.  That’s not so easily done, I know, given all the things that compete for our attention on the weekends.  And it’s not so easily done if the habit has been lost or the commitment compromised over time, but it’s doable with God’s grace, a willing heart, and some resolve. What would it be like, I sometimes ask myself, if we had a “Twelfth Man” passion for Sunday Mass! So there’s one possible conversion, for starters.

     And there are others we might consider, too. We need conversion if our work has become more important than our family; or if our relationships are more about ourselves than the other; or if our personal comfort blinds us to the needs of the poor; or if we are so fixed on our own issues that we ignore the great issues facing the human family: climate change, racial and economic injustice, the plight of refugees, gun violence, the disregard for the value of each and every human life from womb to tomb. Conversion has many faces and can take many paths.

     And true conversion cuts across the entire landscape of our lives. In the imagery of today’s scriptures - that triggered, for me, thoughts of our huge downtown tunnel project and our soon to be collapsing viaduct – conversion involves the hard work of leveling mountains and filling in valleys, making winding roads straight and rough ways smooth. Hard work, for sure, but worthwhile work because, in the end, conversion leads to freedom and liberation. And it leads to joy - the kind of joy that the Prophet Baruch poetically sang about in today’s first reading: standing upon the heights, changing the robes of mourning and misery for the glorious cloak of justice. So no matter how hard the work of conversion, it’s worth it because of the transformation it brings, the liberation, the joy!

     And, my friends, while this conversion is a very personal thing but it comes to life in the community we call the Church.  Our journey of faith, our path to conversion, is not a solitary walk. We are in this together, and whenever we gather in community to celebrate the Eucharist as we have today, that’s when conversion gets its jumpstart. St. Paul has a wonderful expression for describing this that we heard in the reading from Philippians.  He calls it “partnership for the gospel.” I like that. The gospel, the good news, is preached and lived in a partnership that involves us all: the whole Church - not just the religious professionals like me but all the baptized – all of us working together and walking together in this, oh so imperfect but holy partnership that is the Church!

     Dear friends, are you ready to re-up your partnership for the gospel?  Are you ready to commit to conversion?  Advent is the perfect time for this – a perfect time for what Pope Francis likes to call “a revolution of tenderness.” That’s the kind of revolution that could change not only us, but the world!

     And it all starts here. It starts here. For the Eucharist is revolutionary: in the Eucharist are the seeds for overcoming each of our personal sinful tendencies as well as for overcoming the sins that plague our world: hatred, violence, racism, injustice, and the selfish exploitation of God’s creation. That’s because the Eucharist can change minds and hearts in a way nothing else can. When you consider who it is we receive in the Eucharist is that at all surprising!  So, yes, it all starts here. In the Eucharist. ‘Say but the word and my soul will be healed. Say but the word and our world will be healed!’

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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