Advent calls us to conversion, a change to our ways of thinking and acting. In our lives and in our world there are too many valleys of despair that need to be filled; too many mountains and hills of pride that need to be made low; winding roads of confusion that need straightening and rough and violent ways that must be made smooth. We can't do this on our own. This is still our broken and tired world that needs rejuvenation, straightening out and smoothing. And that's what is about to happen. God is coming to set things in right order.
This is a time for us to be filled with new hope and new courage. This hope is proclaimed by the Baptist who reminds us that “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
But the message of hope can make us very uncomfortable. It requires a deep change of heart and mind. And it requires the courage to act accordingly. No one wants to hear that they must change. No one likes to be challenged. Our society doesn't like that kind of talk. Neither do religious institutions. Neither do we. It is much easier to just stay put, keep things as they are and avoid all talk of sacrifice or conversion.
In our day and age, we are surrounded by a host of would-be prophets, who raise their voices in the newspapers, in the press, and on social media. All of them are proclaiming to have some special gift for discerning the truth and some exclusive right to proclaim it. They know exactly what is wrong with this country or with the world or with the Church, and how precisely to cure any and all of its ills. Many of them are pretentious, egotistical, crude and intolerant, especially of those who disagree with them - sure signs that they are not authentic prophets.
But, in this babble of voices, the prophetic message of the Gospel will not be drowned out. It is proclaimed quietly but strongly by the faith-filled men and women whose values stand in direct contrast to those of the world. We live in the wilderness of isolation that has no center and is not a home for us. We must confront the beasts in our wilderness: beasts of aggression, war, competition, greed, and the lust for still more property and power. We must be a sign that another way of living is possible where there are no hills, mountains, valleys or crooked roads to separate us from each other.
We face this challenge every day at home, at work, at play. Faithfulness to God, self-sacrificing and concern for others, patience in adversity, a spirit of compassion for the poor and the powerless - these are the attitudes of mind and heart that make us modern-day prophets. We cannot be afraid to pay the price for carrying on the prophetic mission of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps we still walk along crooked paths. We might find it much easier to take detours around the Gospel challenges of Christian justice. There are still hills of conflict and valleys of depression on the road we walk. There always will be. And that's OK..
Change of heart is an ongoing process and we can use these Advent days to stir up the promise of hope, to bring the seed of Eternal Life to full bloom.
In the midst of so much chaos and turmoil we can gather as people of faith in a holy season of hope, preparing for a new year of liberation. The challenging, prophetic voice of John the Baptist echoes across the centuries to be proclaimed as our own. He expected something wonderful and new to happen. We pray that this Advent will open our eyes to see the wonderful and new things God is promising for us. Let us "make straight His paths." Let us speak with prophetic voices and "prepare the way of the Lord." Putting things in right order is first and foremost and it is woven into the very fabric of discipleship.