The Wild Man from the Desert!
Every year on this, the Second Sunday of Advent, the brash and burly figure of John the Baptist bursts on to the scene, bellowing his characteristic charge: “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” As we heard last week, the First Sunday of Advent is always given to reflect on the promise of the Second Coming of Christ, and the end of the world. Now our next two Sundays focus on John and Holy Mother Church, echoes his call, Prepare, Repent, Turn and Change, be cleansed, renewed, and healed; ready and worthy for His coming.
There’s a great urgency in John’s message; ‘He’s at hand!’, ‘He’s arrived!’ And John preaches at the great crossroads of the fords and ferries of the River Jordan, north of Jericho. The equivalent of Heathrow or Paris, Chicago, or New York, with lots of people passing through, his international audience, even you and me. What does he get them to do? Acknowledge their sins, or we could say, ‘recognise them’. Agreeing with God, saying that His classification of our behaviour is correct, not ours. John was blunt, he got ‘up people’s noses’, made folk feel uncomfortable. God is blunt too! He calls a ‘spade a spade’, sin is sin, hurt is hurt, muck sticks and spiritual muck sticks to our souls. God tells us no to pretend. One of the lovely phrases sometimes used in the Healing Sacrament of Confession is, “I accuse myself of………this is what I have done.” And the big deal for John the Baptist and for all of us is always, “And what is your resolve? What are you going to do about it?” If our words are not accompanied by concrete change, they are empty and banal, John is saying. The Pharisees said, “We have Abraham as our father.” As we might say, “I’m baptised” or “I went to a Catholic school” or “I wear a scapular”. All of which are fine but, if our lives do not have ‘good fruit’ as evidence of repentance and practical faith, we are actually sinning by presumption, trusting in external markers of our Catholic faith but not changing our hearts and actions to reflect God’s ways. John tells us that there is One coming after him who is much greater. Someone who will baptise not with water but judgemental, purifying, FIRE! And here is the link with last weeks message, reminding us of Jesus’ promise to return with Judgement, Fire, New Heaven and New Earth. Here we are reminded that the Sacraments of the Church are foretastes of the final judgement, when we give an account of our lives. Perhaps we are wise to be judged and washed clean, nourished and forgiven now, through the sacraments, in order to be spared the judgement later. This is also, by the way, the reason the Church sometimes practices excommunication; because receiving Holy Communion is a dangerous pre-experience of the final judgement, our meeting with Jesus, Lord and King of the Universe. This the reason St Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 to receive the Blessed Sacrament worthily, reverently and cleansed of mortal sins, for fear we may be eating and drinking condemnation and judgement on ourselves because we are failing to recognise who it is we are receiving. John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets, blunt and forth right, wraps nothing up! As we prepare for Christmas, let’s all of us, young and older, priests and people, make a serious examination of conscience and go to Confession, lest we participate unworthily in the Sacraments, especially the Mass this Advent and Christmas. And let’s let the evidence of our change be seen in our lives.
Fr David Jones OLW