6 December 2020
Is 40:1-5, 9-11 | Ps 85 | 2 Pt 3:8-14 | Mk 1:1-8
Many of us have asked ourselves, “What do I have to do to get to heaven?”
But have you ever asked yourself: “What do I have to do to become a saint?” Because if you think about it, you’re really asking yourself the same question.
This is what Advent is all about. It’s the season that invites us to transform ourselves from sinners into saints.
By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to holiness. This is the call that each of us received at the moment of our baptism. And that was, and remains, the duty of our parents and godparents: to help ensure that this holiness is lived out.
Whether you’re single, dating, married, separated, divorced, widowed, ordained, or professed religious — we are each called to holiness; to be saints.
When it comes to the saints, I think we have this conception of piously clasped hands and reverently bowed heads on holy cards.
Holiness is to live with a goal in mind. It’s to grasp each moment and make it all it can be. Every single event in life is an opportunity to change, to grow, and to become the person God created you to be.
That grasping of each moment is holiness. Sometimes, holiness is as simple as knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”
We know all too well from our experiences in other areas of life — whether it’s business, science, or sports — without clearly defined goals, without knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” little is achieved and most people grossly underachieve.
Michelangelo once wrote, “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
This is what John the Baptist is calling us to in this weekend’s gospel. Here we are, on this Second Sunday of Advent, listening once again to this unpleasant prophet as Christmas draws near: this guy with his gaunt and stark features, wearing a dusty camel’s hair coat, nothing soft like cotton, reeking of locust and honey and smelling of poverty and sweat.
His call for conversion, repentance, and holiness is not one we embrace all too easily.
He is not one of the figures in our nativities. We do not frost John the Baptist sugar cookies. And his image is not one we find on Hallmark® cards. How many John the Baptist Christmas cards have you ever received?
By and large, we prefer the round, jolly overgrown man in the red suit with a bag full of gifts for those of us who probably have too much already.
Yet, all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have John the Baptist at the beginning of the Christmas story, and so the message is clear: if you want to get to the joy of Bethlehem, you must get past the Jordan where John the Baptist is.
I have never played sports. I’ll let the shock of that statement sink in for a moment. (Does this look like it ever played sports?) While I never played sports, I have this vivid image of John the Baptist dressed as a goalie in hockey game, guarding the manger – guarding our nativity sets.
The Church has always demanded that, if you really want to see what’s in Bethlehem’s manger, you must first confront this crazy prophet from the wilderness whose message can be as bitter and wild as the desert itself.
In short: there’s no Jesus without John.
John tells us to repent — not only of our sins, but of trying to hide them: the small-mindedness, backbiting, jealousy, gossiping, adulterous affairs, use of pornography, minor embezzlements, and the self-centeredness.
Somewhere along the line, John preaches that we must do the A.A. thing, “Hello. My name is Fr. Terry, and I’m a sinner.”
Beneath our Norman Rockwell images of Christmas, you and I are fitting subjects for the preaching of John, who comes calling us to account; measuring our lives, not by what nine out of ten Americans think, but by what Almighty God commands.
So there he is: that terrible, unwanted, smelly prophet from the desert, still standing there in front of us.
And the fact is, he is going to stand there blocking our view of the manger because, that’s his job; that’s what he’s about, and what this gospel is about, and what this liturgy is always about.
In this season of Advent, may we truly recognize our call to holiness, and renew those promises first made at the moment of our baptism, when those saving waters were poured over our heads.