Advent: Prepare to Receive Christ

 

John the Baptist preaching, by Mattia Preti
John the Baptist preaching, by Mattia Preti

This Second Sunday of Advent, the People of God is invited to re-discover the deepest desire of their heart.  This human desire is for God.  This longing of every human person is precisely what John the Baptist is helping people acknowledge and receive through his baptism of repentance.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This kingdom of heaven is fully present in the person of Jesus.  This is precisely what the Prophet Isaiah foretells in the passage we have heard again this morning: Jesus is the sprout of the stump of Jesse upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rests.  Jesus possesses the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord.  Jesus is the one who judges with justice and decides aright for the land’s afflicted.  He comes with justice and faithfulness to establish peace and harmony.

I found myself asking “What is justice?”  Here is the brief definition offered in the CCC:  Justice is a moral virtue which consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor.  Original justice refers to the state of holiness in which God created our first parents (375).  Commutative justice, which obliges respect for the rights of the other, is required by the seventh commandment; it is distinguished from legal justice, which concerns what the citizen owes to the community, and distributive justice, which regulates what the community owes its citizens in proportion to their contributions and needs.  (2411)

So, justice is about establishing proper relationships, with God and with each other.  Jesus’ entrance into the world, into the human family, is precisely this, the establishment of God’s Kingdom where everyone will live in proper relationship with God and with one another.  Thus the psalmist encourages us today with the truth of what Christ brings: “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.”  Who does not long for this experience of life?  Christ is the way to such justice, peace and harmony.

Since Christ is the one who comes with salvation, justice, redemption, peace and harmony, then we must be prepared to welcome Christ.  This is exactly what we find John the Baptist doing in the wilderness.  For John is the one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  “Make straight a highway for our God.”  John is preparing the people to receive the Kingdom of heaven, to receive their Lord, to receive the deepest desire of the human heart.

Thus, the baptism of John is one of repentance.  Note, it is not a baptism of forgiveness of sins, but one of repentance.  “At that time [the people] of the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”  This acknowledgement of sins encouraged by John is what puts people in a proper state of mind and heart to receive the LORD, to receive salvation, justice, redemption, peace and harmony.  John is tilling the soil of the human heart to receive the seed, the WORD of God.  But Christ Himself by the Holy Spirit and fire will speak His WORD into our hearts.  This is the WORD that gives life. 

John’s baptism is in preparation for Christ’s coming.  Even though Christ has already come into the world, we still acknowledge our sins, because we too wish to be properly disposed to receive Christ every day of our life, and most particularly, to receive him when he comes again.  We wish to be in the state of grace to live in communion with Christ now and always.

What we prepare for this Advent is expressed in the opening of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God, and WORD was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1: 1-5)

Christ is the desire of the human heart and the desire of Christ’s heart is for the Father and for us to enter into this loving relationship.  Think of the very human relationship of a father and child that mirrors this love.  We have our own language that speaks to the tenderness of this love; dad, daddy, pop.  Even when a father does not love a child as he should, even when there is failure in love, the desire of the child to be loved by the father and to love the father in return still remains.  Perhaps the greatest evidence of this truth comes at the moment of the death of the father.  In this moment, one grieves either the love that is lost, or even the love that was never experienced.

The desire of the human heart is for love.  The desire of the human heart is for God.  Advent prepares us to receive Christ, that this deepest longing of the heart may obtain its desire.  And as love is always a two-way street, Jesus’ coming is also God’s expression of His love for us, in all of its tenderness and mercy. 

Thus, St. Paul in the second reading today from the Letter to the Romans is able to say that our God is a God of endurance and encouragement.  God continues to speak His WORD to us through Sacred Scripture for our instruction that we might live in hope with the enduring encouragement of God.

 

This Advent then calls us to:

  • Be attentive to God’s Word – spend time reading sacred scripture
  • Confess our sins – preparing our hearts to receive our LORD
  • Justice – to give our due to God and to our neighbor

+pde

Arcbishop Etienne

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