A most unusual thing happened in human history. Almighty God, the God of all creation, creator of heaven and earth, creator of mankind, became man. The God of Gods became a small baby, born of the Virgin Mary. This only happened once in all of history. We are preparing to celebrate that fact again with the season of Advent.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin, “advinio”, for “the coming”, or “He comes”. The Church remembers God’s coming into our human history, and God’s coming again at the end of time with the four-week season of Advent in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.
God prepared his people for his coming. Centuries before Jesus birth, Isaiah and other prophets foretold that the Messiah would come. Isaiah even foretold that before the coming of the Messiah, a prophet would announce his coming. That prophet was John the Baptist. During the Mass next Sunday, we will hear John the Baptist fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy when he says,
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.
… appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of. repentance.
And people from Jerusalem and all the countryside went out to him, …
and were being baptized in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
God’s people had strayed and sinned. They no longer worshipped God or honored him in their lives. In the first reading today we hear Isaiah saying to God, centuries before Christ’s coming,
Behold you are angry and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like the leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name….
This sinful behavior had been going on for centuries by the time of John the Baptist. Now the Messiah was coming, as had been announced. John called upon God’s people to repent and amend their lives to prepare to receive the Christ and the Kingdom of God.
In the Gospel, Jesus himself says plainly,
Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come….
… May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!
These words and this warning from Jesus are just as important to us today as they were in the time of John the Baptist and during Jesus’ ministry.
If you have not strayed and become sinful, if you have no need of repentance, then you don’t need Advent. However, if you have become complacent and sinful, if your spiritual disciplines are found wanting, then don’t sit around and wait for Jesus’ Second Coming! Don’t delay examining your life. Now is the time to make a careful examination. Don’t wait until it feels right! At some point you must act on your faith or face the consequences.
In the past few months, Fr. Victor and I have spoken to you about sin. We have examined Jesus’ own teachings about Hell and the final judgment. We have spoken about virtue and living lives of virtue. Those homilies are on our parish website.
The season of Advent is a gift of the Church to help us once again to examine our consciences and repent of our sins. We are called to pray and fast and give alms and to ask for God’s forgiveness. Spiritual discipline can be strengthened by fasting and prayer; just like your muscles with exercise. If you have not been mindful of the poor, now is the time to acknowledge that failure and make amends. If you have not been to Confession in some time, now is a good time to catch up. We have Confessions every Saturday at 9am, after the 8am Mass, and again after 5pm Mass. We have Confessions every First Friday. And our parish Advent Reconciliation Service will be Friday, December 9, when we will have several priests present to hear confessions. Now is the time to get right with God.
A good family practice would be to have an Advent wreath in the home to light the candles and pray as a family at dinner time, following the themes of the Sunday’s of Advent in preparation for Christmas.
One of my spiritual directors had a saying,
“Christmas was a flop because Advent was spiritually shoddy!”
The best way to prepare for Christmas to do as John the Baptist said, “Repent!”