Second Sunday of Advent - 4th December, 2016
Liturgical ReflectionGospel - Matthew 3: 1-12
When I was a teenager we had a retired Irish priest living in the parish. He would help out with masses during the week and on Sundays when our parish priest was away. He was in his 80s, and so had been a priest pre and post Vatican II. One Sunday while giving his homily, he slipped back into what I perceived to be a pre-Vatican II sermon. His voice grew in volume, his face grew in intensity and the words flew forth with passion, commitment and fire. Reaching somewhat of a climax in his sermon, he raised his right hand above his head, and then brought his clenched fist crashing down on the pulpit. With this - the sermon suddenly ended and he sat down quietly to let us ponder his words of exhortation, or perhaps he just remembered what year he was in.
As post Vatican II baby, I had never experienced anything like this before and I felt a mixture of astonishment, excitement and a bit of old fashioned ‘fear of God’.
In our Gospel we hear the ‘wild looking’ and impassioned John the Baptist chastising the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them to repentance through the use of powerful imagery and suggestion. No doubt they would have felt a degree of fear, astonishment, indignation and fear, not quite knowing what to make of John and his words. Perhaps John the Baptist and retired Irish priests of the 80s had something in common.
No one likes to be told off and told to change your ways or suffer the consequences. It can make you disheartened and thinking you are a failure and weak, incapable of changing your ways. If however, we are gently encouraged and supported lovingly to make positive changes for the better, it can be a totally different and more positive experience. Having said that, of course we sometimes need a good ‘kick in the pants’ to get us out of our complacency and get things sorted. Sometimes that’s the only thing that works, but it’s best followed up with supportive encouragement.
The beautiful season of Advent provides us with the ‘kick in the pants’ and the gentle, nurturing encouragement to look at our lives and make changes where changes are needed, so that our ‘paths may be straightened’ to welcome the Lord of Light at Christmas and indeed every day of the year. The harsh words of the Baptist can give us that kick we need and the ever gentle love of Our Lord Jesus can encourage us to give it our best shot.
Happy Advent to you and may your paths become more straight.