The Advent readings point to the overturning and the renewal of a broken world. They bring a promise from our God, that God will bring renewal to God’s people; not just an interior change, but by a transformation of the world.
This is a season of expectation and of hope. It is a time for us to listen again to God's promise of deliverance and reconciliation. It is a time for us to be reassured of His relentless love for each and all of us, and for our planet. It is a time for us to be filled with new hope, new courage; a time to be reassured that the darkness which overshadows the present moment, whether from sin, sickness, poverty, sorrow, weakness or failure, will be dissipated and driven away by the Sun of Justice, the Word-Made-Flesh.
Unlike Lent, Advent is not primarily a season that stresses sin and contrition. But, judging from the Baptist’s words in today's Gospel, Advent does require a change in our lives. Confession of sin — certainly — but more. We must change in a way that will more faithfully attune us to God’s word. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that religious observance isn’t an automatic pass. Nor can they claim a privileged place before God merely because they are descendants of Abraham. God wants, John says, a fresh hearing and open ears from us. Coming to church regularly, having our children baptized and even volunteering a bit is not enough to clear away the cobwebs of habit and laxness. The old stuff must be cut down, “at the root,” so God can come to renew and reignite the intense heat of God’s love and call in us. We must be the "signal to the nations" of which Isaiah speaks in our first Reading.
Who knows what newness God will bring into our lives if we make space for Him this Advent? A world at peace? Honest political processes? A renewed natural environment? Homelessness a thing of the past? Adequate health care for all? Racial harmony? No more ethnic or religious wars?
The Baptist's cry is "dream on - and then do something about it! Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight the crooked paths!"
Advent is not a season of false hope. We are not getting ready for some improbable, imagined event that exists only in fantasy. Our hope is based on the assurance that our God is coming. He has, in fact, already come among us in our own flesh. He has, in fact, already loved us beyond death, has overcome sin and evil, and has seeded us with the hope of Eternal Life.
Advent stirs this hope, to bring the seed to full bloom. We know that the Lord has come... we are certain that the Lord will come. And for us that does not mean waiting in fear and dread for doomsday. We do believe in the second coming of Jesus, and we try to live each day in readiness for that stupendous event. But, more importantly, we believe in all that Jesus has already accomplished in us - and we see in that a promise, a reason to hope for so much more.... for a deepening of our own faith and love... for power to overcome evil in ourselves and in our world... for the spread of the gospel... for the healing of hatred and the banishment of fear... for peace and justice.
Perhaps we still walk along crooked paths. We might find it much easier to take detours around the Gospel challenges of Christian justice. But Jesus himself is waiting, patiently, compassionately. So we need to try, again and again, during these special days of Advent to clear the way for Him - and to be a clear signal to the world of His coming.
The central message of our Advent is that the Lord has come, He has taken away the curse of our sins, He has baptized us in the Holy Spirit, He has comforted us; He has come like a good shepherd to gather the lambs in His arms.
Let us do something to prepare for a new entrance of God into our world. Let us make a straight path to God where we can lay down past records of wrongs and have a chance to start all over again — the threshing floor cleared of chaff and burned, the wheat gathered into barns. We are called to hasten His coming in our own time and place. We continue to "prepare the way of the Lord." We continue to proclaim the "Good News:" Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, has Come, is Coming and will come!
Let us go out together and be this signal of hope.
Graphic: John the Baptist Preaching, Mattia Preti, 1667