Sunday, Dec. 9, is the Second Sunday of Advent. Saturday, Dec. 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — a holy day of obligation. Since it is the patronal feast of the United States, it remains a day of obligation even on a Saturday. Dec. 12 is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Baruch 5:1-9; Psalms 126:1-6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
Today’s readings tell us to do something very difficult: They tell us to repent with joy. How is that possible?
Consider how two identical chores can be utterly different.
First, imagine a father says: "Go into the attic and bring down all the boxes piled in the far corner."
The children, to say the least, do not rejoice. They even complain a little and drag their feet. The whole job is unpleasant: The long climb up the narrow, steep stairs; the stooped walk through the dark, scary space; the weight of the boxes that they have to push, drag and hoist down into the light.
Now, imagine the father saying: "Go into the attic and bring down the Christmas decorations."
The whole picture changes: Suddenly, the children are happy to do the chore. As they climb the stairs, they are thinking of gifts, and the stairs are no longer as steep. As they pull down the boxes, the prospect of the bulbs and strings of lights makes them easy to carry. As they pile them up in the family room, the excitement builds.
We think of repentance as drudgery. It entails the steep climb into the dimly lit recesses of our soul, where we don’t quite feel at home, even though we are even more deeply in our own place, because it entails lugging out the collected baggage and exposing it to the light of day.
Repentance is messy and hard.
But today we hear a particularly formal proclamation of the Gospel — an announcement of the Good News of our salvation — in which St. John the Baptist came "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
What he is describing is a massive earth-moving project. He is describing changing the terrain to create a straight and flat road. He is describing doing in our souls what the road crews that built our interstate highway system did: Blast through the mountains, bridge the chasms, and make it easy for Christ to come.
St. Paul assures us that we don’t have to do the work alone: "I am confident of this, that the one who began the work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."
That’s what Advent is for: Repent and seek forgiveness for sins. Pull the boxes out of your attic and hand them over in the confessional. Then do the things that will level your mountains and span your chasms. Give away the things you hold onto: your free time, money, efforts, etc.
The first reading is a description of the coming of Christ in the future. This isn’t our preparation for Christ, but his for us: "God will bring them back to you, borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground."
That’s why we repent. That’s why we do the hard work of our earthly project. So we can start the glorious journey back to God.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.