In the Gospel today we are told that the people came to John the Baptist and were baptized “as they acknowledged their sins.” As they acknowledged their sins. Wow! They must have had a lot of really bad, awful, terrible sins, don’t you think?? Oh those wicked Judeans!!! Those sinful Israelites!
Well, no. I am pretty sure that they were not all that different than you and me. After all, these are the people that went out to hear John the Baptist in the desert. The really wicked people were too busy at home being wicked.
But even if these people coming to John the Baptist were basically decent folk just like us, they still had a problem with sin. They were not perfect. They still screwed up. They still acted selfishly. They still had bigotry and greed in their hearts. They still gave into laziness, and gossip, and lust, and hardness of heart. They still yelled at their kids, ignored their spouse, said nasty things about the neighbors, went to websites they should not go to, cheated on reimbursement requests and sometimes goofed off at work. In other words, they were just like us.
John the Baptist doesn’t come telling them - or us - that they are really fine, that they are not so bad, that they are OK just as they are. Because they aren’t. And neither are we. They needed to acknowledge their sins and repent. So do we.
John is also calling out to us: “Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.” The way we have to prepare is not on Mopac. The Path we must make straight is not on I-35. Rather the way of the Lord we must make straight and smooth and ready for the Lord is in our own hearts. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is a special time of preparation. Open yourself to the coming of the Christ!
Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees showed up to John, it was a different matter. They came, not out of true repentance, but rather to be seen. They were there to be noticed. So everyone could see how holy and righteous they were. John the Baptist was the popular attraction of the day and they wanted to cash in on some of his limelight. You know the type.
But John was not so easily fooled. “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. “
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Don’t come parading before everyone to get baptized unless you are really going to live it out, day after day, every hour of the day.
The conversion we are called to is not for show, nor just for a day, but is a long-term, permanent commitment.
St Paul addresses this in our second reading today. It is not just for today that we are called to repentance, but for the long-haul. And that requires hope. Hope energizes us for the long haul.
St Paul states: “Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.” That by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.
In our fast-paced world, where we can have so many things almost instantaneously, endurance is not popular. Endurance requires stick-to-itiveness, commitment, fortitude, and most importantly, patience. To truly be a Christian we need endurance. In the Christian life we must not be sprinters but marathon runners. There are no quick fixes to the bent, twisted and broken parts of our human nature. Letting go of lies, of selfishness, of envy and jealously, of turning away from gossip and lust and laziness, takes time and work and patient endurance. Learning to be honest, and compassionate and generous and chaste and brave and loving requires endurance and lots of work. Lots of work. And it is not at all easy.
But in addition to endurance, St. Paul also mentions “the encouragement of the Scriptures…” God’s Word in the Scriptures touches our hearts, breaks through the tough shell of indifference and selfishness, and softens the dry, hard fibers of our deepest self, calling us to new life and to hope.
“…that by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”
That we might have hope. Hope is precious. Without hope the situation is, well, hopeless. Hopelessness is a very bad place to be. False hope does not help.
Fortunately, our hope is very real: forged on the cross and revealed on Easter. We can face the future with confidence – and even joy - when we have such hope. We look to prepare the way of the Lord in this Advent, so that for us, individually and collectively, “by endurance and by the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.”