Advent 2 C

From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading the prophet Baruch admonishes the people to take off their garments of mourning and put on festive ones because God will reveal himself in their midst. The people thought God had abandoned them because of their infidelities. Baruch tells his people, “Arise Jerusalem and turn your eyes to the east, be jubilant because God has remembered his people.” God has decreed the flattening of every high mountain, the filling of the valleys to make level ground so that Israel can walk in safety. We on our own may find mountains of obstacles, but He will help us to overcome every barrier because He is our God, with us and for us.Who you are makes a difference!
A teacher in New York decided to honour each of her seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters that read, "Who I Am Makes a Difference." She also gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony. Later that day a junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss's jacket above his heart. As he left he said, "Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honouring somebody else?” That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honour. As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honour with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honour you. My days are really hectic and when I come home I don't pay a lot of attention to you. Tonight, I just wanted to let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You're a great kid and I love you!" The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he couldn't stop crying. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, "I was planning on committing suicide tomorrow, Dad, because I didn't think you loved me. Now I know you care. This is the happiest day I've known." The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. And the young boy and his classmates learned a valuable lesson. Who you are does make a difference!

The point that Luke’s Gospel makes is that the story of Jesus’ birth changes the whole of history. If we Christians do not have a sense of history, we will never appreciate the bible, the liturgy or even the plan of God himself. We know from our experience that love is remembering the good times as well as the struggles of our relationships. Faith too is remembering the goodness of God, all his interventions in our history and all that he has done for us. In the Gospel Luke puts before us the figure of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord. His message is blunt and to the point: “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” John’s message to his listeners can be summarised in that one word ‘Repent’ We cannot be prepared for God’s coming if we are not ready to repent, to change, to turn away from whatever is evil in our lives and turn towards the Lord. At Advent we are not focusing on the first coming of Jesus, which we remember at Christmas, nor His coming to us each time we receive the sacraments, but we look to his final coming at the end of time. Are we prepared to meet the Lord?

It was a hot Sunday in June and millions of Americans were watching the U.S. Golf Open on TV. At a critical point in the play, the camera focused on John Nicklaus. He was in the rough and preparing to shoot out. Slowly and deliberately he addressed the ball. Then for a full 20 seconds of prime time TV, he stood poised and ready to swing. Suddenly at the last moment he backed away from the ball and said aloud for everybody to hear, “That’s the wrong swing.” The sports commentator covering the match was confused and said, “But he didn’t swing! What’s going on here?” A lot was going on. And Nicklaus explains exactly what it was in his book ‘Golf My Way’, in which he describes how he prepares for every shot he takes. It is a process called mental rehearsal. This simply means that he plays every shot in his imagination before he plays it for real. Nicklaus writes: “It is like a colour movie. First I ‘see’ the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white… on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes and I ‘see’ the ball going there. …even its behaviour on landing. Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.” What Jack Nicklaus was doing on that hot Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Golf Open is what the Church is asking us to do during the season of Advent. The Church asks us to go through a kind of mental rehearsal to prepare for the coming of Christ … His final coming at the end of time.
Mark Link

Change your thinking! Change yourself!
Once upon a time there was a king, who ruled a prosperous country. One day he went for a trip to some distant areas of his country. When he came back to his palace, he complained that his feet were very sore because it was the first time that he went for such a long trip, and the road he went through was very rough and stony. He then ordered his people to cover every road of the country with leather. Definitely this would need skins of thousands of animals, and would cost a huge amount of money. Then one of his wise advisors dared to question the king, “Why do you have to spend that unnecessary amount of money? Why don’t you just cut a little piece of leather to cover your feet?” The king was surprised, but later agreed to his suggestion to make a ‘shoe’ for himself. – We often say, “I wish things would change or people would change.” Instead wise people say: “Change your thinking and change your world.”
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

Facilitating God’s Coming
A monk was passing through a dangerous and deserted highway. He came across a wounded man with high fever lying helplessly on the roadside. The monk took compassion on him and began to take care of him. He cleaned his wounds and tied them with medicinal leaves; he shared his food with him and spent the night taking care of him. The following morning the man was a little better and he was able to proceed on his own. When the monk was about to take leave, the stranger turned towards the monk and said to him, “Sir, you do not know who I am, neither my name, nor my race or caste or language, yet you bound my wounds, shared your food and spent the night taking care of me. Tell me, what made you do all these things for me?” Then the monk replied, “The Lord who created me said, ‘What you do to the least of your brethren, you do it for me.’ You are my brother. What I had done to you, I had done it to my Lord.” Then the man said, “Sir who is your God? If your God makes you do all these things to a stranger, then I need that God. Give your God to me.” The monk paved the way for God in that man’s life. It is said that a saint is one who makes it easy for others to believe in God. “Prepare the way for God...”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

Prepared for the end!
Jim had always been a quiet man. His voice was gentle and pleasant. He seemed to have a constant sense of being in contact with God. He had absolutely no aggression in his personality, but he was always deeply upset by reports of impatience, ethnic cleansing, and the flow of refugees, in search of safety and security. Jim got cancer. From the beginning he was totally aware of his situation, and insisted on being kept informed of every step of the prognosis. He retained his dignity, his composure, and his peace of mind. He was very realistic about life and about death. He spoke openly about how he felt and thought. Most impressive of all was his attitude towards death. Whenever I was with him during his final weeks, I always felt that his whole life was a preparation for what was to come. It was obvious that he had made a direct connection between the first coming of Jesus, and his return to call Jim home. He was ready and had a sense of waiting patiently. He spent a lot of his time, while he still had the energy, in reaching out to others, in sorting out his affairs, and in preparing his wife and family for what lay ahead. I was with him when he died. He died as he had lived, with peace, calm and dignity. When I read today’s gospel, I think of Jim. He represents for me what today’s gospel is all about.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

Are we repentant?

I’m no cricket buff, but I do follow from afar, the wins and woes of cricketing nations. Ironically, though Australia won the ICC Championship Trophy on November 5, 2006, it lost the respect of sports-persons nationwide, for its rowdy, reprehensible behavior at the prize-presentation ceremony. Television replays showed Australian cricketers pushing and shoving Sharad Pawar, President of the BCCI and Central Cabinet Minister. Later, Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, apologized for his teammates’ uncivilized behavior. Repentance for a group’s misbehavior is perhaps easier than personal repentance. But that is what today’s readings require.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1.  Boys Playing Basketball – and MJ

Once upon a time a group of young people (teen age boys if the truth be told) were playing basketball on the parish courts. A bald African American man, with a large diamond in his ear, strolled up and watched them. He looked kind of familiar but the boys knew it couldn’t be. He asked if he might play. He was taller than any of them and they weren’t sure. He promised he would not rebound. So they let him play. He was pretty good. In fact he was truly excellent. Without even working up a sweat, he made three point jump shots, lay-ups, hooks, and even shots with his eyes closed. Either hand too. They had seen this style before, but they still didn’t believe it was the one they thought it might be. Then he spent about fifteen minutes giving them tips which were really radical.  

Hadn’t they seen this act in TV ads? But it would never happen in their parish, would it? Then he thanked them for letting him play and ambled away. They kind of wanted to follow him to see if he really drove a Chevy, because that would have clinched it . But they didn’t. They didn’t tell anyone about what happened. Who would believe that MJ himself had come to their school yard and shot around with them. Besides they didn’t believe it was really him. 

2. "Dam up the Detroit River, and baptize the entire city!"

William P. Barker tells about a machinist with the Ford motor company in Detroit who had, over a period of years, "borrowed" various parts and tools from the company which he had not bothered to return. While this practice was not condoned, it was more or less accepted by management, and nothing was done about it. The machinist, however, experienced a Christian conversion. He was baptized and became a devout believer. More important, he took his baptism seriously. The very next morning, he arrived at work loaded down with tools and all the parts he had "borrowed" from the company during the years. He explained the situation to his foreman, added that he'd never really meant to steal them and hoped he'd be forgiven. The foreman was so astonished and impressed by his action, that he cabled Mr. Ford himself, who was visiting a European plant, and explained the entire event in detail. Immediately Ford cabled back: "Dam up the Detroit River," he said, "and baptize the entire city!" [TARBELL'S TEACHER'S GUIDE, Vol. 82, (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1986).] We can only hope that every Christian takes his or her baptism that seriously. 

 3. Preparation for VIPs:  

When the president or prime minister of a country is  scheduled to make a public appearance, his staff prepares weeks and even months in advance to make certain that the proper protocol will be observed and the leader’ security will be assured. Similarly, detailed preparations precede the appearance of religious leaders like the Pope. Programs are scheduled, choral presentations are practiced, gifts are bought and special persons are chosen to present them in the most gracious manner possible, so that the honored one is duly recognized and appreciated. Careful planning also accompanies the appearances of other political figures, celebrity entertainers and rock singers. When rock stars like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen made a tour, elaborate preparations were made for their coming. If they came to the Silver dome in Pontiac, Michigan, for example, their entourage would ahead of time to get things ready for their concert. Stages would be set; lighting would be adjusted; every care would be taken so that the needs and whims of each guest would be fully accommodated. In fact, one wonders if today’s gospel about John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Jesus applies more to modern rock stars than it does to the true Messiah. Only when we put the same care and commitment into our spiritual Christmas preparations that rock stars put into their musical performances, will “all mankind begin to see the salvation of God.”
4. Bat baptism: 

Three pastors got together for coffee one morning. Much to their surprise they discovered that all their churches had problems with bats infesting their belfries. The bats were making a terrible mess. "I got so mad," said one pastor, "I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to the bats."  "I tried trapping them alive," said the second. "Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church."  "I haven't had any more problems," said the third.  "What did you do?" asked the others, amazed.  "I simply baptized and confirmed them," he replied. "I haven't seen them since."  If that story doesn't make you laugh, it will make you cry. It is such a common occurrence. People come to the church desiring Christian baptism and church membership. We welcome them into our fellowship, and then for six weeks or so after we welcome them into our fellowship, we don't hear anything of them. What does it mean? Or parents stand at the altar to present a child to God. They make promises to bring up that child in the household of faith, and then they disappear. We rarely see them again. What did those promises mean? On this second Sunday of the New Church Year our lesson from the Gospels focuses our attention on the place of baptism in our lives. Jesus came to be baptized by John.

5. We need to prepare the way for the Messiah in our hearts:
We have to fill in the “valleys” of our souls which have resulted from our  shallow prayer life and a minimalist way of living our faith.  We have to straighten out whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking, like involvement in some secret or habitual sins or in a sinful relationship.  If we have been involved in some dishonest practices at work or at home, we are called to straighten them out and make restitution.  If we have been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to be reconciled with others, now is the time to clear away all the debris.  If we have been pushing God off to the side of our road, if we have been saying to Him that we don’t really have the time for Him, now is the time for us to get our priorities straight.  As individuals, we might have to overcome deep-seated resentment, persistent fault-finding, unwillingness to forgive, dishonesty in our dealings with others, or a bullying attitude.  And we all have to level the “mountains” of our pride and egocentrism.  As a society we might have to dismantle unfair housing policies, employment disparity, economic injustice, or racial and ethnic biases.

6. We need to repent and seek forgiveness from God and fellow-human beings

John's message calls us to confront and confess our sins. We have to turn away from them in sincere repentance and receive God's forgiveness.  There are basically two reasons why people who have recognized their sins fail to receive forgiveness for them.  The first is that they fail to repent.  But the second is that they fail to forgive.  Jesus is very explicit about this in Matthew 6:14 and 15. He says, "For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."  Is there someone I need to forgive today?  We must not let what others have done destroy our lives.  We can't be forgiven unless we forgive.  We must release our bitterness if we are to be able to allow God to do His healing work in our lives.

7. "Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied."  

A soap manufacturer and a pastor were walking together down a street in a large city.  The soap manufacturer casually said, "The gospel you preach hasn't done much good, has it?  Just observe. There is still a lot of wickedness in the world, and a lot of wicked people, too!"  The pastor made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter.  Seizing the opportunity, the pastor said, "I see that soap hasn't done much good in the world either; for there is much dirt still here, and many dirty people are still around."  The soap man said, "Oh, well, soap only works when it is applied."  And the pastor said, "Exactly!  So it is with the gospel."

8. Shake It Off and Step Up! 

A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer's well. The farmer heard the mule braying and went to the site. After assessing the situation the farmer sympathized with the mule but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead he called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels and bury the poor mule and put him out of his misery.

The mule seemed hysterical. When the dirt struck his back he shook it off. As the farmer and his friends continued to shovel a thought struck the farmer. After each shovel of dirt was thrown onto the mule he said, "Shake it off and step up." The mule did what he asked, after every shovel of dirt. After a time the old mule stepped triumphantly out of the well. What seemed to bury him actually became his road to freedom.

There is an alternative to every impossible situation. The way is not always visible to us. But our task is not to work miracles, that is up to God. Our responsibility is to prepare the way, committing every ounce of energy we have to the possibility of the transforming power of God, remembering that a single act of kindness can bring hope to generations yet to come.

Keith Wagner, Possibilities Unlimited

9. There Is Work to Do!

 What a message for us at Advent! "Let every heart/Prepare him room" we sing. Perhaps we would do well to say let every heart get out the bulldozers and backhoes, the rock crushers and road graders:

There are mountains that need to come down - mountains of racism, sexism, ageism, and any other "-ism" that blocks our way to healthy relationships with one another and with our Lord.

There are valleys to be filled - valleys of depression, despair, loneliness, grief, pain, any of which can keep us from the rich relationship the Savior offers and that keep us from enjoying the fellowship of the faith.

There are crooked places to be made straight - yes, there is perversity, even among those we might never imagine; fine exteriors mask rotten interiors of abuse, neglect, immorality, even violence.

There are rough places to be made smooth - rough places that have come because of oppression and injustice.  

There is work to do! Bring on the heavy equipment!
David E. Leininger, One Shock after Another
10. The Hinge of History

It sometimes seems that God shows his sense of humor with history. Halford Luccock once noted that Nero was sure that the most important happenings in Rome were the words he said, the laws he enacted, and the things he did. As a matter of fact, the biggest events in Rome at the time were some prayer meetings which were being held secretly in the catacombs. The Medici, he observes, must have seemed the key figures in Renaissance Europe, with their palaces, art galleries, and political power. Yet they are overshadowed by "a little boy playing about on the docks of Genoa," who would eventually open the seaway to the Americans - Christopher Columbus.

So it was in John the Baptizer's time. One can easily imagine the pomp and circumstance with which Herod trampled about as tetrarch of Galilee. Wherever he went, people scraped and bowed. They waited for a disdaining nod and dreamed of some act of preferment from his hand. Herod was, indeed, a big man in Galilee in the first century. Today, all his pomp is simply pompous, and all his circumstance only circumstantial. But John the Baptizer! -- a great human being.

J. Ellsworth Kalas, 'The Hinge of History,' Sermons on the Gospel Readings, Cycle C, CSS Publishing Company

 11. A Higher Standard of Living

Max Lucado tells the story of a man who had been a closet slob most of his life. He just couldn't comprehend the logic of neatness. Why make up a bed if you're going to sleep in it again tonight? Why put the lid on the toothpaste tube if you're going to take it off again in the morning? He admitted to being compulsive about being messy.

 Then he got married. His wife was patient. She said she didn't mind his habits . . . if he didn't mind sleeping on the couch. Since he did mind, he began to change. He said he enrolled in a 12-step program for slobs. A physical therapist helped him rediscover the muscles used for hanging up shirts and placing toilet paper on the holder. His nose was reintroduced to the smell of Pine Sol. By the time his in-laws arrived for a visit, he was a new man. 

But then came that moment of truth. His wife went out of town for a week. At first he reverted to the old man. He figured he could be a slob for six days and clean up on the seventh. But something strange happened. He could no longer relax with dirty dishes in the sink or towels flung around the bathroom or clothes on the floor or sheets piled up like a mountain on the bed.

What happened? Simple. He had been exposed to a higher standard of living.

That's what confession and repentance do for us. That's what Jesus does for us.

Billy D. Strayhorn, Thunder in the Desert


12. Turn on the Lights!

During the recent recession, one commentator on television began his newscast by saying, "Due to the current financial crisis, the light at the end of the tunnel will be turned off." The world turns off lights. Christians turn them on - look around you, in your neighborhoods, in this season. Light (especially light at the end of a tunnel) represents hope. Something that pierces the darkness.

William R. Boyer, A God Full of Surprises

13. We Need a Bath!

Last week we embarked on the journey of Advent. We lit the first candle, and we read biblical passages that propelled us into the future to consider the end of time-the apocalypse. Today, our reading sends us in the opposite direction. On the second Sunday of Advent, we are pulled into the distant past to hear the words of the ancient prophet, Malachi. Malachi tells of a figure who is coming "to prepare the way for the Lord." He speaks of a messenger who will purify people's hearts. "God is sending an emissary," writes Malachi, "who comes intending to cleanse your souls."

It all seems a bit presumptuous, doesn't it? In the midst of our pre-Christmas hustle and bustle, the church trots out some primitive prophet who promises us an Advent scrub-down. Is that really what we need right now? You would think that the lectionary could come up with a few encouraging words at this time-assuring us that we will make it through another Christmas, instead of cheekily suggesting that before God arrives, we need a bath.

Scott Black Johnston, Fire and Soap


14. Recognizing our Need to Repent 

One critic said he had gone to many churches and heard the preacher say,

"Don't try to impress God with your works" or "Don't attempt to please God with your merits" or "Don't try to keep the rules and regulations and thus win your way." He looked around at nearly slumbering collections of utterly casual Christians and wondered, "Who's trying?" 

Martin Marty
15. Our Basic Problem

Billy Graham, who has often played the 20th century role of John the Baptizer, had these comments about the disease running rampant in our world: "We're suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed."