John the Baptist came proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s mission was to prepare for the coming of the savior. The world will be transformed by his coming – “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.”
The time of salvation is one of great joy. The first reading from Baruch speaks of the hope provided by God. This will be the time to “take off your robe of mourning and misery” and “put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” Recognizing the presence of God and his goodness to us will lead us to the heartfelt acclamation that is used as the responsorial to today’s psalm, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”
Advent is the time of preparation. The ongoing preparation that is not limited to but focused on in the season is that of the Lord’s return. Upon his return, the final victory will be won and all who remain faithful will share in that joy. The preparations for the celebration of Christmas take precedence in the later part of the season.
The transformation of the world that the savior ushers in is a new way of looking at the world around us and the way we interact with that world and with each other. When we look at the world in which we live, we certainly see signs of goodness, truth, beauty and light. At the same time we also see fear, disillusion, evil and destruction. A good number of people look at this and think that if Jesus came to restore the world and usher in the time of joy and peace, he must have failed.
Jesus did come into the world to establish the kingdom of God, a kingdom of truth, goodness, mercy and love. He has established that kingdom. As he does so, he does not force his way on us; he invites us to live life in the kingdom.
The acceptance of that invitation is called faith. We are frail human beings, and most of us readily admit that we fail at living his way all the time for we are sinners. In striving to live that life, however, we begin to view the world in a different light. Jesus invites us to see things differently than the world does. The values, principles and norms of the world are sometimes good, but that is not our starting point. The starting point is God and his way. When we order our lives on him and his kingdom, we begin to see and experience that joy, peace, truth and goodness that is proclaimed in today’s liturgy.
Surely there are times in our lives where this is challenged. Jesus himself told us many times it would be this way. Just the other day, the Gospel reading for daily Mass was the passage where Jesus describes the foundation of the house that was built on stone and that which was built on sand. When the foundation of our house (our lives) are built solidly on stone (faith), then it can withstand the winds and rains that will be inevitable. Those winds and rains can take all different forms: suffering, illness, sadness, broken relationships, financial collapse, unemployment, racism, persecution, rage, anger, evil acts, terror, poverty and so forth. The list can go on and on.
Yet when our lives are rooted in faith, we have the means to withstand the storms. Hard as it is to believe sometimes, Jesus tells us that we can even find peace and joy in the midst of them. Fundamental and foundational to this is faith.
The season of Advent helps us to prepare for the Lord’s coming. The time of preparation is one where we keep vigil. Central to all of this is faith — faith in the Lord, in his way and in his life. Vigilance helps us to stay focused and sharp amid the challenges and distractions of life. Observing the season helps us to repent of our sins, celebrate the Lord’s mercy, live in his love and join in one chorus of praise saying: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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