In 1830, George Wilson was convicted of robbing the U.S. Mail and was sentenced to be hanged. President Andrew Jackson issued a pardon for Wilson, but he refused to accept it. The matter went to Chief Justice Marshall who concluded that Wilson would have to be executed. “A pardon is a slip of paper,” wrote Marshall, “the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. Hence, George Wilson must be hanged.” For some, the pardon comes too late. For others, the pardon is not accepted. Today’s readings remind us that the Advent is the acceptable time for repentance and the acceptance of God’s pardon and renewal of life.
John the Baptist in today’s Gospel tells us to play our essential part by leading lives of repentance, conversion, and renewal, thus preparing the way for the Lord’s second coming. We start this process by spiritually preparing for the annual celebration of Christmas, the Lord’s first coming, as we reform and renew our lives by repentance and works of charity.
John’s message was not soothing. It cut into the very hearts of men. John denounced evil wherever he found it. He accused Herod of living a loose moral life. His message was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”. Repentance involves turning around – facing in a new direction — with a change of heart and a new commitment. Repentance is a daily experience that renews our Baptism. “The repentant person comes before God saying, ‘I can’t do it myself, God. Kill me and give me new life. You buried me in Baptism. Bury me again today. Raise me to a new life.’” Repentance for us is not a one-time action but must take place daily, because preparing for the Lord is a perpetual task.
Many years ago, a man was shocked to read his own obituary in the daily newspaper. His death was mistakenly reported. But what shocked him was how the obituary had described him: someone who devoted his life to make weapons of war and destruction. That very morning, he resolved to concentrate his energies and God-given talents in a new direction: to work for world peace and the improvement of conditions around the world. Later, this wise man became the founder of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel. Advent is the time for us to change from our selfishness.
We need to answer the call for a change of life. John the Baptist challenges us to correct our relationships with others, face family responsibilities, work honestly, and treat our employees justly. Let us share our love with others as selfless and humble service. Saint Theresa of Lisieux and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta advise us that “Do small things but with great love”. Let us celebrate the memory of Jesus’ first advent with great preparation.
We also need to prepare for Christ’s coming by allowing him to be reborn daily in our lives. Advent is the time for us to make this preparation by repenting of our sins and renewing our lives through prayer, penance, and the sharing of our blessings with others. We need to remember the words of Alexander Pope: “What does it profit me if Jesus is reborn in thousands of cribs all over the world and not reborn in my heart?” He means that Jesus must be reborn in our heart during this season of Advent and every day of our lives, radiating his love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and spirit of humble service to the world through our lives.
Once upon a time there was a king, who ruled a prosperous country. One day he went for a trip to some distant areas of his country. When he came back to his palace, he complained that his feet were very uncomfortable, because it was the first time that he went for such a long trip, and the road he went through was very rough and stony. He then gave the order to cover every road of the country with leather. This would need skins of thousands of animals, and would cost a huge amount of money. Then one of his wise advisors asked him “Why do you have to spend that unnecessary amount of money? Why don’t you just cut a little piece of leather to cover your feet?” The king was surprised, but later agreed to his suggestion to make a ‘shoe’ for himself.
We often say, “I wish things would change or people would change.” Instead wise people say: “Change your thinking and change your world” Advent is the time for such a change.