Today we meet the scary character of John the Baptist, just the sort of person you’d cross the road to avoid, especially if you happened to be a Pharisee! John’s tough and direct message of preparation is one of faithful humility; it is a prophetic and uncompromising call for repentance and forgiveness. He reminds us that we are not readying ourselves to change the world alone; rather we are preparing to witness, and cooperate with, the grace and love of Jesus that alone can transform our world. Any change we want to effect begins with us.
But if we rely only on ourselves, each day is encumbered with myriad “winding roads” and “rough ways”: a teacher struggles with managing an unruly class with diverse needs; a parent faces redundancy; a spouse is worried about the health of The Loved One. As much as we try to tackle these obstacles individually, it is imperative that we have the wisdom to recognize our own limited humanity. The job is impossible, and we are inadequate. The season of Advent is driven by this essential truth of our humanity: we are deeply, indeed completely, dependent on God and the sooner we recognize this the easier life and its trials become. We need God’s grace, His help.
The beauty of Christian discipleship, and of Advent, lies not only in Jesus’ saving grace, but also in Jesus’ invitation. We are not passive spectators of Christ’s mighty works. Jesus wants us co-piloting the craft with Him. This season we do not only witness the salvation of God, but Jesus calls us to join in his mission. Our call is not, by ourselves, to straighten the winding roads nor make smooth the rough ways of our broken world or to solve our own personal crisis or even to bear the burden of our personal struggles alone. That job is for a love and a manner of ‘being’ much deeper than our hearts can comprehend. In Advent, rather, we prepare to join in the work of Christ with zeal and compassion, to witness and share the vibrant kinship and radical hospitality of Jesus. Indeed, what could be a more profound preparation this Advent than opening ourselves more willingly to participate in the saving mission of Jesus for our own good and the good of all the world? It’s not an easy thing to begin to do because it involves a change and there a precious few of us who are good at grasping that nettle. I find that as I slog my way through mid-life ‘change’ becomes harder. I also recognize that it is becoming more necessary.
If there are struggles that you are having to shoulder, have you brought them to prayer? Have you offered them during Mass? Have you been to Confession to receive more grace to help you? Have you asked me or another parishioner to pray with you, not just for you? What have you to lose? Nowt, that’s what!
Last Laugh: Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. Groucho Marx