Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. Remember, there are four Sundays of Advent. We already noted last Sunday that Advent is the special season set aside for us to prepare for the coming of Christ. We reflect on the coming of Christ at Christmas when he was born, and we prepare for his final coming. The season of Advent can be easily misunderstood and misused. In some of our offices, schools, and homes, there are lots of Christmas parties already being organized. There are lots of Christmas buying and selling going on. There are Christmas jingles, carols, decorations, and all forms of celebrations going on now. Hardly do you hear of Advent outside the Church. In the midst of such, it is very easy to forget the mood of the season. Advent is not Christmas; Advent has its own special mood; Advent has its own special feeling; it has its own special purpose. Advent is like Lent in many ways. It is a time of preparation; a penitent time. That is why we put on the same color of vestment (violet) for both Advent and Lent.
Bearing in mind that we can easily be distracted from the mood of this season, the Church, through the work of St. Mark, presents us with the greatest preacher of this season, the greatest preacher of Advent, John the Baptist, to lead us to the right mood of Advent. In today’s Gospel passage, John the Baptist calls us to the desert, to keep us away from the distractions of this world, to focus on what really matters in this season.
The desert reminds us of the journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. On that journey, the Israelites experienced divine providence; they experienced divine provision. There were no construction companies to build a bridge, but the power of God gave them passage through the sea. They did not plant, they did not harvest, but they had food to eat and water to drink. This calls us also to reflect on the special ways that God intervenes in our lives. This season reminds us that God can help us even when we do not have human connections. You may not have the job, house, education, etc. that others have, but you may still have the satisfaction they have, because, our help ultimately comes from God.
The preaching of John the Baptist is very simple. He went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He had just a simple message: make a change, and repent. His challenge to us is to fill up the valleys of selfishness in our lives, level the mountains of pride in our lives, straighten the winding roads of deceit in our lives, and to make smooth our rough ways of sinful living. We can only heed this call to change if we know the truth of our present conditions. It is however a pity that the distractions we get at this season as a result of the commercialization of the season hardly allow us to reflect on our lives to make the necessary amendments.
Permit me to share one of my barbershop experiences with you. When I first arrived the U.S., I left my hair to grow. I had a lot of hair. I went to a barbershop for a haircut. I discovered that the barber I met could only speak Spanish. I needed just to trim my hair. The only two Spanish words I knew at that time were si and gracias, which respectively means, yes and thank you. With some broken English and hand gestures, I tried to explain the kind of haircut I needed. He kept saying “si, si, si” and nodding in affirmation. I sat down, and faced the mirror, hoping that if he was going off limit, I would be able to raise an alarm. But shortly before he started cutting my hair, he turned me from the mirror, and made me to face the television. I thought that from time to time he would turn me to the mirror to see the job in progress, but I was carried away by the soccer match on the television. Eventually, when he turned me from the television to face the mirror, I had no single hair left on my head.
I think my experience at the barbershop is also an Advent homily for all of us. We can only make the changes required of us in preparation for the coming of Christ when we know our present condition. We can only know our present condition by taking a sincere look at ourselves. Unfortunately, many Christians do what I did at the barbershop. Instead of looking at myself through the mirror to make things right while having the haircut, I was distracted by the television. Similarly, many Christians allow themselves to be distracted in this season by parties, commercialization of the season, and other forms of distractions without looking at their personal spiritual and moral preparations. We all need some repentance. This is the season. Remember, Christianity is not a destination, it is a journey. Let us join John the Baptist in the desert so we can look at our lives to fix all that need fixing. May the Holy Spirit help us in this journey so that at Christmas, we may all become better Christians, through Christ our Lord. Amen.