Mary had a dream one night. In the dream she was walking down a street full of shops. Seeing one that looked new, one she had not seen before, she went in. It was a beautiful store, and everything was in the best condition.
Mary approached the counter and was surprised to find God working in the shop. “How can I help you Mary?” he asked. “What do you sell here?” Mary replied. “Anything your heart desires,” God said. Mary was so filled with joy she thought, “What is the best thing I could ask for?” She answered: “I would like peace, love, kindness, wisdom and mercy.” Then she added: “and not just for me but for everyone on the planet.” God replied: “Mary, I think you’ve got me wrong. I do not sell fruits, I sell seeds.”
The seeds of love, mercy, kindness, peace, justice and wisdom have been given to mankind by God. He is the sower who plants them into our hearts through the advent of His Son, Jesus the Christ. While it is true that he also cultivates the seeds in our heart, He asks us to assist in their care and development. God gives and we respond to the gift.
John the Baptist came to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. He comes once again to encourage us to prepare anew during this season of Advent. The gifts that God has planted in our hearts remain. The newness or renewal involves the attention we give to these gifts. The thanksgiving we offer, the praise we proclaim and the response to His love and mercy help those virtues grow and develop. We, and the world we live in, is changed in the process.
John cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” The call for preparation continues. We prepare for the Lord’s second coming. We prepare for the celebration of His birth. Preparation involves readiness. One of the distractions we need to deal with, especially in today’s world, is busy-ness.
I was talking with a friend the other day who said she was getting “worn down” by all the activity: work, kid’s activities, social clubs and so forth. She said she goes from one thing to another with little time to just “think.” Many people experience this. Added to this, we have the “shopping season” just before Christmas which can be demanding of time and energy. Not that any of these things are bad, it’s just demanding of our time. So demanding that it can be distracting, distracting from the things that really matter in life: our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.
The Collect (prayer at the conclusion of the Introductory Rites at Mass) this week reads: “Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company.” In the collect the priest gathers all our prayers and makes this prayer on our behalf. We pray that “no earthly undertaking” block us from our preparation for the Lord’s coming. How appropriate to offer this prayer today. The call of the Baptist reminds us that “now” is the time to prepare. To set aside some of those things that might distract us from cultivating those divine gifts that Jesus sowed among us and in us.
John also speaks of the transformation that takes place with the Advent of the Messiah. “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.” We should be careful not to read this as something that occurs only in the future (such as at the Lord’s second coming). While there is truth in that aspect, it is equally true that the Lord has already come. He has redeemed the world through His love and mercy.
As we prepare, we might ask ourselves if we look at the world through the lens of Christ’s saving life, death and resurrection. Everything has changed because of this. One way we can renew our awareness of this (which helps us prepare for the Lord’s coming) is to reflect on our “world-view.” How do I view the world and my place in it? What is my purpose in life? Why did God create me and place me in this world? Looking at our answers we might consider these questions: Do I recognize that my life is changed because of Christ Jesus? Do I recognize the love and mercy of God that has been poured out on me through Him? Do I realize that Christ lives in me and that my life has been transformed and saved through His passion, death and resurrection?
The more we realize this great love that God has for us, a love that never fades or goes away, the more we desire to thank Him, to praise Him and to change our way of life so that it is more in keeping with His life. The realization leads to great rejoicing. It is as though Baruch is speaking to us (First Reading) when he says to Jerusalem: “Take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever…For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever, the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”
The life that our heavenly Father has won for us through His Son instills in us and in our hearts the blessings of love, mercy peace, joy, contentment and wisdom. These gifts are cultivated and developed through continued attention. St. Paul encourages us as we strive to keep the vigil of Advent writing: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”