2nd Sunday in Advent
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God). As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'" John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Introductory Prayer: Lord Jesus, moved by the Holy Spirit, John prepared the way for you. I wish to prepare the way for you to come to my own soul, “making straight your paths”. I believe that you also call me to help prepare the way for you to come into the world, into the hearts of those around me, my home and my friends. I know this will require fortitude, and I place all my trust in you as I try to do what you ask of me. I trust in your grace and in your presence to carry me beyond the attractions of the world and my own weakness. I love you, for you have taught me with your life how to give and live not just for myself. Help me to humbly open my heart and mind to your message in prayer.
Petition: Grant me, Lord, the humility to accept your call and the fidelity to live it always in relationship to you.
1. What Made John Different? Where do his message and mission come from? How did John come to go against all that was popular and common to appear in the desert with a radical message of repentance? Only God's grace can allow any of us to overcome the world and the damage left by original sin. John was set apart from other men from the start, called to be a prophet, a counter-cultural man. Early in his life he became aware of this call, followed it, and obeyed it, submitting in faith to God’s will.
I am also called to be counter-cultural. Only those who can stand strong in God's will and with the aid of his grace use all the powers of their mind and heart to seek what is good and true, can rise above the materialism of modern life, find the meaning of their lives and lead others to true fulfillment. The alternative is to follow the path of least resistance, and to allow myself be dragged into conformity with the lowest common denominator of my circles. Which do I chose?
2. The Spirit Granted Him True Freedom. Once John responded to his call, God sent him on a mission. But was he free? Or was he simply forced to do God’s bidding? Right up to the end of his life he was faithful to his call to proclaim the truth and urge repentance, even though it was precisely this that cost him his life. In prison there was certainly no personal gain to be had, nor any pressure from his audience or followers. He acted freely, with a freedom far beyond that of those he preached to: John had said to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him" (Mk 6:18-20).
Who sounds like the free man in St. Mark’s account?! Herodias carries a grudge and Herod is captivated by the man he has imprisoned! How did John begin his life? In grace. God’s grace frees us from the slavery of sin. He was not just free, but more importantly he was free to do good, to love God faithfully. Freedom has an object, namely the good that brings us happiness. And that freedom is found only in God’s will (cf. Gal 4:8-9; Jn 8:31-38 - ...and the truth will make you free... everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin...).
John’s freedom also countered his own natural tendencies toward comfort, ease and pleasure. His freedom from these forces comes from the power of grace, the power of virtue and the power of love - all spiritual powers. Do I possess or work for these powers of freedom?
3. Humility: a Free Choice to Accept One's Mission Within God’s plan. Jesus praises John:
"But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall make ready the way before you.' I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist" (Lk 7:26-28).
Where did this greatness lie? There are two sides to it. He was faithful to his life-mission. His mission was to prepare the way of the Lord, to be a voice crying in the desert, baptizing, preaching repentance, and opening hearts to believe in Christ. He even prepared disciples like Andrew and John, who would later follow Jesus. His mission reached its climax when he was able to give personal witness to Christ: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn 1:26); I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God (Jn 1:34). After baptizing Christ, John was baptized in blood. His final witness confirmed all he had preached, faithful to Christ unto death. All was in reference to Christ, not to himself.
He was humble. All of this fidelity required great humility. He had to deny the suggestions and desires of so many to identify him as the Messiah. They say power corrupts and that popularity goes to your head. Not so with John. His mission was to be the precursor, not the Messiah, the Voice and not the Word. He knew he was not worthy to even untie his sandal. He had to deny his own vanity and even his own well-earned recognition. No, I am only SENT BEFORE HIM and the FRIEND OF THE BRIDEGROOM. The only honor John sought was to be true to Christ and his mission. And this gave him his greatest joy: This, my joy, therefore, is made full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:29).
What a beautiful definition of humility! To be what I am called to be, no more and no less, so that others can truly recognize God. To not attempt to appropriate for oneself what belongs to God; in the end, this is called Glory. To say, "I am just a poor servant. I have done what I was supposed to do.”
Conversation: Dear Lord, help me to know and identify with my vocation. But I want to live it fully, not half-heartedly, with a clear and unmistakable knowledge and conviction about my mission in life. Never allow me to be dishonest, to glorify myself, or to take short-cuts, omitting any part of your will. I want to love you with humility and fidelity, resisting all the distractions and deceptions that try to convince me of who I am, or could be, or should make myself become. I want to live free to be myself, as you define me. May my voice, my life, and my death bring many more souls to you, setting the world ablaze with love for you.
1. Am I willing to stand out from the crowd by standing up for Christ?
2. Can I say I am truly free, that I use my freedom always for what is good?
3. What is God calling me to do at this point in my life? What are the obstacles that I face in responding to that call, and how can I overcome them?