2nd Sunday of Advent
I have a nephew in town. 6 years ago he came to Memphis from India to go to CBU for college. Now he graduated and working at FedEx. It has been our tradition that at least once a month, we get together to eat. Last week we were having dinner together in a restaurant. As we were taking off, suddenly, this nice looking young man approached us. He was from Bellevue Baptist church and he wanted to introduce both of us to Jesus Christ. He thought, we are father and son and being from India, we are Hindu people and never had the opportunity to come to know Jesus! I looked at his eyes. It was filled with love and Holy Spirit. He was such a decent Baptist brother. I was really impressed with that young man and we had a long conversation. He said, for the past several years, he has travelled to South America and to India many times building churches and bring people to Christ. It is his personal mission especially during the season of Christmas to bring people to Christ. That night, when I came home I had a hard time sleeping; because I had been asking this question to myself. Over the years how many times have I stepped out of my comfort zone trying to bring people to Christ? Jesus came as a light shining in darkness. Jesus is God’s solution to human problems. Am I diligently preparing a people to welcome Him as the savior of their life as this young man and John the Baptist?
Lately I have been reading the story behind the Mega-churches that are growing so fast in the United States! Of course people have a lot of allegations about these mega churches and pastors! But study show the reason behind their growth is not primarily because of their programming or preaching, buildings, video screens or cute, thirty-something pastors. They are growing primarily because members are actively inviting others to join them in worship. Eighty percent of all first-time visitors to a Church come because a friend or neighbor invited them. It’s the active verb…inviting, reaching, gathering…which makes all the difference. A mega-church is a non-denominational, Bible-centered Christian congregation that draws thousands of people to its weekly services. The phenomenon started about thirty years ago as a way to bring people back to the basics of Christianity – a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You may have heard of Rick Warren, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Warren) pastor of a mega-church in southern California whose book, The Purpose-Driven Life, has over 20 million copies in print You may also have heard of Joel Osteen, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Osteen) author of two national bestsellers, who runs a mega-church in Houston, Texas that attracts 38,000 people to its Sunday services and 200 million households to its television broadcasts (https://youtu.be/GA6uE2CPo1I) . You may even have heard of Bill Hybels [HIGH-bills] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Hybels) , the founder of what many consider the first mega-church ever – Willow Creek Community Church, near Chicago, Illinois – that currently has more than 100 ministries operating out of its home base (https://youtu.be/jbtbgkh_bfE) . These are just some of the better-known mega-church leaders, but mega-churches are springing up throughout North America, and they are even sending missionaries abroad. One little known fact about these mega-churches is that more than 25% of their members are former Catholics whom nobody in their former parishes actively invited to the liturgical celebrations and whom nobody involved in various church ministries. Today’s Gospel presents John the Baptist reaching out and touching the lives of people through his fire-brand-octopus-evangelization. In a recent survey, 50% of the non-church going people in the US said that they would go to church if they are invited! Who are you going to invite this season to come and meet the Messiah? Please come up with a list of people and start praying for them to prepare their hearts and invite them! God is always looking for a John the Baptist to prepare the way for His son. Can you be a John the Baptist during this season?
John’s conditions for belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven: The coming Kingdom was John’s main theme. While the Gentile convert, Mark, uses the words “Kingdom of God,” Matthew follows the Jewish tradition of avoiding the use of God’s name by using the expression “Kingdom of Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is a God-centered, God-controlled life. John wanted people to experience such a life. Everyone who wants to experience this “reign of God” needs to make a radical change in his or her life. That is the call for repentance. We cannot come under the sovereign rule of God without a change of attitude, a change of heart and a change of lifestyle. John not only denounced men for what they had done, he summoned them to what they ought to do. That is why Matthew emphasized the new life of proper fruit-bearing more than the forgiveness of sins. Bearing good fruit is not just doing good things but also doing them for the right reason.
John’s baptism as the expression of repentance: John’s baptism by water was an external expression of repentance. What he insisted on was the internal expression, a repentance that bore real fruit: a turning from worldly values combined with generosity and love. As a sign of true repentance, John urged the tax collectors to “stop collecting more than what is prescribed,” and told the soldiers to “stop extortion and false accusation and remain satisfied with your wages.” In short, John’s message was a call for radical conversion, a demand for self-denial, sacrifice and loving service to others. We may have to put an ax to the roots of the resentments and biases in our hearts. We may have to winnow out our greed and overindulgence, and we may have to burn the chaff of our impatience. Even though John’s preaching was characterized by scathing criticism, his call for reform was described in Luke’s Gospel as “the Good News” because the arrival of the Messiah would initiate a new reign of forgiveness, healing and salvation.
The romans had a terrible punishment carrying a dead body tied face-to-face with a captive and kept him in a dungeon until the horrible emissions and discharges of the dead one’s rotten body destroyed the life of the living victim. Likewise sometimes, many people carry a dead soul in a living body! Without the pardon and forgiveness of sins by Christ, our bodies, too, are shackled to a soul dead by mortal sins. Only genuine repentance and confession of sins can free us from certain death, as John the Baptist says in today’s Gospel, because life and death cannot co-exist indefinitely.
Before Christmas, we must take a bath. In fact, we should take two baths, a baptismal bath “in water for the sake of transformation” and a bath “in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). Unlike the bath in water, this fire-baptism removes impurities from even the most precious metals. Do you remember when as a youngster you didn’t want to take a bath? Adults have a much greater reluctance to take the baths of repentance and fire-purification. We’re afraid of what God may find if we expose our nakedness and dirt to Him. Of course, God already knows us. He can see right through us. But we’re afraid to see ourselves. We have suppressed many of our sinful patterns out of our consciousness into our sub consciousness. Here they have even greater influence on us since our subconscious motivates most of our actions. Advent is the time for us to make this preparation by repenting of our sins, and renewing our lives through prayer, penance, and sharing our blessings with others. Let us remember the famous 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”?
Personally let us prayerfully wait for the Lord to be born in our lives! Waiting, an inevitable and even necessary aspect of human life, is not something that most of us relish. We wait in lines: in order to purchase groceries; to be served at popular restaurants; to be assisted in a bank; at stop signs and traffic signals; at amusement parks; to see a play or film. We must also wait for flowers to grow and bloom; for babies to be born; for wounds to heal; for bread to rise and cheese to age; for children to mature; for friends to call; for love to deepen. Statisticians have estimated that in a lifetime of 70 years, the average person spends at least three years waiting! Today’s readings invite us to wait for the rebirth of the Lord in our lives with repentant hearts and renewed lives.