Is 11: 1-10; Rom 15: 4-9; Mt 3: 1-12
A Sunday school teacher wanted each of her Kindergarten students to have learned one fact about Jesus by the next Sunday. The following week she asked each child in turn what he or she had learned. Susie said, “He was born in a manger.” Bobby said, “He threw the money changers out of the temple.” Little Johnny said, “He has a red pickup truck but he doesn’t know how to drive it.” Curious, the teacher asked, “And where did you learn that, Johnny?” “From my Daddy,” said Johnny. “Yesterday we were driving down the highway, and this red pickup truck pulled out in front of us and Daddy yelled at him, ‘Jesus Christ! Why don’t you learn how to drive?'”
We heard in the Gospel now, “A voice of the one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”. Most probably John the Baptist would have cried out to all the people of Judea saying, “Jesus Christ! Don’t you know what is it come?” “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” To 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.” “…every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” “His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
These are not simple words spoken in soft voice. John’s cry was a desperate cry. Why? The coming Kingdom was John’s main theme. John wanted everyone to be part of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is a God-centered, God-controlled life. John wanted people to experience such a life. Everyone who wants to experience this “reign of God” needs to make a radical change in his or her life. That is the call for repentance. We cannot come under the sovereign rule of God without a change of attitude, a change of heart and a change of lifestyle.
John justified his call to repentance by announcing that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and that the way to prepare for that day was to repent. Literally, the Greek word for repentance (metánoia) means, “to change one’s mind and heart,” a change of direction or a U-turn. Repentance involves turning around – facing in a new direction — with a change of heart and a new commitment. Repentance is a daily experience that renews our Baptism.
John not only denounced men for what they had done, he summoned them to what they ought to do. That is why Matthew emphasized the new life of proper fruit-bearing more than the forgiveness of sins. Bearing good fruit is not just doing good things but also doing them for the right reason.
The season of Advent reminds us that the words in today’s Scripture readings were intended not just for the people of biblical times but also for the people of all times. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I.”
Concretely, what do these words mean for you and me right now? They mean the same thing for us that they meant for people in Jesus’ time. They mean acknowledging our sins. They mean presenting them to God for forgiveness. Then mean beginning a brand new life in Jesus.
We need to prepare for Christ’s coming by allowing him to be reborn daily in our lives: Advent is the time for us to make this preparation by repenting of our sins, and renewing our lives through prayer, penance, and sharing our blessings with others.
Let our prayer be for this week: Come, O Lord, into the Advent of our lives. May your presence in our hearts and homes make us realize the preciousness of the time you have given us. Help us to embrace John’s call to repentance and enable us to transform the wastelands and straighten the winding roads of our lives in the compassion and justice of God. Amen