Fr. Charles Irvin
Last Sunday we considered the broad sweep of Advent and reminded ourselves that Advent begins with us looking at the end of the world. It is right that we should be anxious and concerned about the judgment of God on the Day of Judgment. But we should not be held in the grip of fear because God’s judgment is that we are worth saving. God’s judgment comes to us in His grace and mercy, His grace and mercy given us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
That theme continues this weekend. The first words in today’s first reading come from the prophet Isaiah. God tells Isaiah to comfort His people. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” He tells Isaiah, and proclaim to her that her time of trial is coming to an end. “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be make a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”
Advent is a time of expectancy along with our waiting in hope. Advent is forward looking. It’s different from Lent, which is a time of reflection and examination. During this Advent season, we have our own sets of expectations, longing for a better world. While it is true that the reign of God has, in Jesus Christ, been established among us, it is likewise true that we humans have not responded to God’s offer, as we should. We long for peace. We cry out for justice. Security remains illusive. Dishonesty, corruption and greed still beset us. We lament the fact that the world in which we must live is in the condition that it is in. “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God,” Isaiah tells us.
The vision is both broad and personal at the same time. God speaks to us as a people, a people dear to His heart, while at the same time He speaks to us personally and individually. We have our responsibilities, both communal and individual. God’s judgment falls upon nations as well as upon individuals.
But just what sort of comfort do we seek? Are we looking to feather our own nests or are we seeking justice for the oppressed, relief for the burdened, and dignity for outcasts? Just how comfortable can we be when all around us we hear the cries of those who have been shunned, ignored, and treated with contempt? Just how comfortable can we be in the midst of the famines, disasters and oppression that beset millions of people in the world around us?
What changes do we want to occur in our world? What changes do we want in our own personal lives? Do we in fact really want any changes at all? Some might prefer to simply hunker down with what they’ve got and not risk any changes.
The problem with materialism and wealth is that they are narcotics. They dull our sensibilities. When we are over-fed we over-indulge and become sleepy and lethargic. John the Baptist’s message, we must recall, was intended to disturb the comfortable and to prod the complacent. It likewise a prod for those held hostage is fatalism, those who claim, “that’s just the way things are” and thereupon do nothing to change both their lives as well as the conditions in the world in which they live.
John the Baptist calls us to face change with expectant hope. Many, however, face change in fear and dread.
Change is now forcing itself on General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Just now, Chrysler seems to be the only one of the so-called Big Three that is facing change with expectant hope.
Change is forcing itself on our entire U.S. economy. Given the global markets in which we now find ourselves, we can no longer continue as a manufacturing economy. The question we face is how to face the change. In the past we successfully changed from being an agricultural economy to an industrial one. Cannot we now successfully manage another change of equal, if not greater, magnitude?
We face changes in the Catholic Church, particularly with respect to the way we manage the looming shortage of priests and the growing role of Catholic laity in the life of our Church.
And then there is the question of Iraq. What changes are coming there and how will we face them?
The hardest changes of all, however, are those that are needed in our own personal lives. Many feel that attending Mass each and every weekend is not necessary. Countless numbers have abandoned going to confession. Many no longer bother themselves with what the Church teaches. Perhaps all of these things are indications of our unwillingness to change our attitudes and our ways of doing things. Have we allowed our Imperial Selves to become the sole and supreme arbiters of what we should think and do? Has the individual self become weary of living responsibly in community with others?
Advent is a time of looking ahead in expectant hope. Why? Because we need a savior. We need a higher power. Operating on just our own powers is not working. We find ourselves sinking into deeper and deeper isolation, cut off from the gifts and powers and God is offering us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
The words in today’s Gospel account are the very first words in St. Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus Christ. They come from Mark’s first chapter, verses 1-8. We should note that those words and thoughts are all about change, change that is coming upon us, change that we should face not in fear and dread but change that we should accept in faith and expectant hope. Why? Because we all need what God can offer us in changing not only the world around us but in changing our very own lives, which is perhaps the most difficult of all of the challenges we face. For Jesus came to empower us with God’s Holy Spirit, an empowerment that should give comfort to us all, a power God gives us to comfort those around us.