Fr. Charles Irvin
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-9
I want to share a story with you this morning, a true story involving former President Ronald Reagan and a young teenaged boy who lived in Houston, Texas. The sad part of the story is that this young man had terminal cancer. President Reagan learned of the boy’s plight and called him up on the telephone to offer him encouragement.
The funny part of the story is that while the boy and the President of the United States were on the phone talking with each other another call came in on the boy’s telephone.
Without giving it a thought the boy said: “Would you mind holding for a minute?” and then, without waiting for a reply, hit the hold button to talk with his girlfriend.
I don’t know about you but I find myself laughing at the thought of a teenager saying: “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but I have another call. Could you hold, please?” CLICK!! And the President of the United States finds himself sitting at his desk holding a dead phone and waiting for a teenager to come back on the line.
Why do I find that comforting? Well, I guess I fancy doing that to the pope some day. Perhaps then he’ll get a hint of what it’s like to be down in the trenches pastoring a parish. I get put on hold a whole lot! And in more ways than just one!
Today’s Scripture readings are about God on hold. It’s something that puzzled the Christians who in time followed after the Church of the Apostles. When, they puzzled, was Christ coming back in glory to judge the world and return it to His Father in heaven?
You will recall, of course, that the New Testament was written in the expectation of the immanent return of Jesus to bring the New Creation to completion. Indeed, the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, is entirely devoted to that expectation. But in the centuries that followed, the fact that God is holding back became a problem.
The question was: “Why?” Why does God delay? The emerging answer is: God waits for our human response. Why? Because He is merciful; His patience is His mercy. He gives us plenty of time to place our selves among either the saved or the damned. He has put Himself on hold. He’s not coming back just yet.
We still have time, you and I, to amend our lives, to make some changes, to draw closer to the Lord. We still have time to make time to pray even though we excuse ourselves by claiming that we’re too busy. Repentance and conversion are still possible in order for us to draw into closer bonds of intimacy with the Lord.
Intimacy is the operative word. He made us, after all, to love Him face to face. That is our destiny; that is our reason for being; that’s why were here on earth, namely to learn how to love, to empty and sacrifice our selves, to give up our comfort, our ease, and our time for the sake of Him. For He surrounds us with His Presence; showers us with opportunities to love Him. “I was lonely and you gave me comfort and love”, “I was hurting, and you helped me to heal”, and so forth.
There’s still time, you see, to develop our love relationships. There`s still time to make life in our families a little bit better. There’s still time to make our cities safer to live in. There’s still time to save our environment and the balance of nature in our world. There’s still time to wage peace. There’s still time to get rid of our resentments, our prejudices, and our ill will toward those around us. There’s still time to work with our Creator to bring the world to the completion that He has in mind for it. There’s still time to join with God in finishing His unfinished business both in our own personal growth and development and in the growth and development of the lives of those around us and in the world around us.
The question I need to face in my own life is this: “Am I putting God on hold?” He is, after all, waiting for me to put Him back on the line so that He can finish His conversation with me. He has words of encouragement, words of advice, words of empowering love to share with me. His Word has become flesh and dwells next to me, indeed within me.
How do you imagine God feels about being put on hold? His message, His conversation, His words for me are words of home, encouragement, power, inspiration, and direction so that I can rejoice not only in His Presence but in the power that he gives me to overcome all in this life that holds me in captivity and incapacitates me to do what I really want to do and become what I really want to become.
Much in our religious life depends primarily upon our willingness… not on God’s willingness. God’s willingness has already been given to us. All of His Sacraments are empowering moments of His gracious willingness to fill us with the power of His Holy Spirit. The great Sacrament we are about to receive is, if it is anything at all, a Sacrament of power over our lives, IF, and only if, we receive it with the willingness to surrender to His purposes and directions.
John the Baptist appeals to human willingness, for a change in our will, to a change in the priorities in our lives. To what do we give our attention? What attracts our love, drives our choices, and claims energies? Does God have any part in them?
Do we believe that a spiritual life is possible for us? If we believe that something is impossible then it will remain impossible. It will never come true. If, on the other hand, we
believe that something is possible then it will be possible. It can come true.
Repentance and conversion is a process by which we change our minds about our selves and about our lives. But in order to enter into the process we have to take God off of hold and start listening to Him again. Each one of us lives in our own personal valleys and mountains, our own moods and feelings. We build mountains out of the molehills of our moods. We let them become impossible barriers; we allow them to make wastelands of our feelings and our lives. They keep God’s healing and loving and empowering Presence at a daunting distance from our hungry hearts and thirsting souls.
God has a faith in us that’s all to lacking in our part. He has a hope for us that we’ve allowed to be hidden in the shadows of the valleys of our feelings and moods. He has a love for us that we keep on some distant mountaintop.
God is on the line waiting for us to resume the conversation we’ve had with Him before we were distracted and put Him on hold. And if we let Him speak His Word to us, then we will find power in our life once again, power to change our thinking about our selves, to change our ways, our moods, and our feelings; to change the way we decide things and the way we act in our lives. He will baptize us in the Holy Spirit, and then we will know exactly what John the Baptizer was talking about.