The Gospel for December 6th, 2015, Second Sunday of Advent: “The Preaching of John the Baptist”
Luke 3: 1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout [the]whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of words of the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth,
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
I have a specific and meaningful memory of this year’s series of Advent readings. It is the same series that occurred in the year Matthew Kelly recorded his speaking engagement that became the audio CD, “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself” (check it out). The message of that CD spoke to me in way that led to the first authentic conversion in my life. As a part of his presentation, he considers the message of these advent readings collectively. When he comes to this reading about John the Baptist, he considers the meaning of John’s proclamation of repentance in preparing for the coming of Jesus. Kelly asks, what does it mean to repent? His answer is to turn back to God. And then he adds a comment that makes so much sense that it rises to level of true wisdom: To turn back to God, you’ve got to turn away from something. That one hit me hard. To repent we must turn away from those pursuits , habits, and relationships that are drawing our attention away from God’s plan for us, or as Kelly puts it, that are not helping us become the best version of ourselves (BVOO).
Kelly makes it clear that if we ask ourselves which pursuits, habits, and relationships are not helping us become the BVOO, we will know which of those we need to turn away from to turn back to God. From my own self-examination of my life I learned this alarming insight, it is those that smack of selfishness. I knew which items on my list I needed to turn my back on because they benefitted no one but me. The other crushing truth I discovered was these are the same ones on my list that I held most dear!
Fortunately, I also discovered that turning to God brings with it a sense of inner peace that is not possible from those aspects of my life that are selfish in nature. While those sins (let’s call them what they are) may bring temporary pleasure, they always leave me wanting more, always in the turmoil of dissatisfication. So turning back to God is the better move, in spite of the sacrifice for which it calls. But how does one do it? How does one break the cycle of sin, selfishness, addiction (choose your favorite reference for a bad habit)? Well, spoiler alert, next week John the Baptist is going to give a pretty enlightening answer to how one repents.
But in the meantime, consider this. The Church builds in help by promoting the sacrament of reconciliation during Advent season, often in many parishes in the form of community celebrations of the sacrament in addition to the weekly opportunities that already are available. I am reminded in this focus to go to confession where I will confess my need to turn away from my sins and back to God. There, the priest will absolve our sins and break their stranglehold on us, so that we may receive the peace and joy of our savior with open hearts. “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (6). Amen, Isaiah. Amen, John the Baptist. I hope to see you at the confessional. It is an act of repentance.