An elementary school teacher was lecturing to her class on the dangers of not bundling up properly to face the winter cold. She told them a dramatic story about a naughty little boy who disobeyed his mother and went sledding one afternoon without his mittens, cap, and snow suit. Because of it, he caught pneumonia and died. When she finished her story, one boy raised his hand. “Mrs. Johnson, may I ask two questions?” “Go ahead, Tommy,” the teacher replied. “Who has his sled now and could I have it?” Just like the little Tommy who did not get the point the story, we too forget sometimes the importance of this holy season of Advent.
December has to be, by far, the craziest month of the year – wouldn’t you agree? If someone from another planet were to come and watch our world during this month, that visitor would conclude that we have completely lost our minds. Why is this month so crazy? It’s because we are preparing, aren’t we. As men and women hit the shopping malls with a high level of intensity and aggressiveness – they’re preparing. As houses become filled with the smell of cookies, and radio stations change around their programming to include old, nostalgic songs about chestnuts and a winter wonderland – people are preparing, because soon, it will be Christmas time.
Advent is a Latin word which means “approach” or “arrival.” Advent is that time of the year when we prepare for the arrival of Christ. We prepare to celebrate his first arrival, his humble, quiet birth in Bethlehem. But we’re also preparing for his second arrival, when Christ will come in all of his majesty, with the loud, trumpet call of God on Judgment Day. We do all kinds of physical things to prepare for Christmas. But how we go about with our spiritual preparation?
There is someone who teaches you how to do this, and he appears every December. No, it’s not Rudolph or Frosty or Santa – it’s “John the Baptist.” John had been called by God to prepare people for the arrival of the Messiah – Jesus Christ was about to start his public ministry, and John was preparing people, getting them ready. He did that by teaching the people to repent.
To “repent” means to make a U-turn, to change direction. John was telling the people to change the direction of their lives. They were going one way, unprepared for Christ. John told them to turn their lives around and go the other way.
This, my friends, is how we can prepare for Christ too. Repent. Think of repentance this way – first you identify, and then, you do the opposite. First, you identify what is sinful in your life. This will take some quiet time on your part. Turn off the TV, the radio in your car one day during this week. Shut down the internet. Take a break from shopping and decorating. And just sit, and think, and identify the weaknesses in your life. What is your weakness, your sin? Are you materialistic? Do you like to be surrounded by things? Are you selfish? Do you have impure, immoral thoughts? Are you impatient with others? Do you say things about other people that you really shouldn’t say? What are your sins? Identify them. This is the first part of repentance. And then the second, do the opposite. Instead of being materialistic, be spiritual. Instead of being selfish, be generous. Instead of being immoral, strive to be pure in your mind. Do the opposite. Change direction in your life. Make a U-turn. That’s repentance.
As someone once said, “When your soul has laid down its faults at the feet of Christ, you feel as though you have wings.” Confess your shortcomings to Christ, seek for his forgiveness and mercy through the Sacrament of reconciliation, and hear the words of mercy coming to you through the ministry of the church, priesting saying to “I absolve you”. And then rejoice, because He forgives you all of your sins.
And that is when you experience true Christian joy. And as Christ forgives you, he also gives you strength. If you want to make changes in your life, Christ will give you the strength you need. As Philippians chapter four says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
So when I say prepare, I want you to look into your lives more deeply than thinking of decorations or parties or gifts or cards. Those are nice, but there’s more to it. St. Paul today gives us an idea of what we should be doing to prepare: this is my prayer he tells: “that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” That is my prayer for you too. Amen.