Luke 3:1-6 (2nd Sunday of Advent)
People think, Christmas is all about buying gifts and giving gifts. It’s not. It’s about receiving gift; God’s greatest gift of Jesus Christ. In the midst of Christmas decoration, buying cards and gifts, we see the presence of this strange man named John the Baptist. He is a different drummer! He cries out Prepare a way for the Lord. Make his paths straight. If we fail to listen to him, we will lose the meaning of Christmas.
A couple of years ago, when I went to India for vacation, a priest friend of mine working in Tanzania, Africa was also visiting India for vacation. We sat down and started sharing our stories. He said, in his small parish the mass would take 2 and half hours with a thirty minutes homily. If the homily is not lasting 30 minutes, then people would complain. Because of my curiosity I asked my friend “How do this people sit on dirt floor for two and a half hours or more listening to the word of God and celebrating Mass? The answer he said was very enlightening. He said that people need to have a personal experience of God in their lives before they can hear the word of God with joy. He said that proclaiming the word of God to people who do not know God in a personal way, and who do not have a personal relationship with God, is like reading poetry to people who do not know what poetry is all about. They get bored very easily and are in a hurry to leave. How can such people move from a situation of being bored by the word of God to a situation of joy and enthusiasm in hearing the word of God? Here John the Baptist gives us an example.
As we read in today’s gospel, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into the entire region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:2-3). In this short text we find the three steps necessary to transform anybody from lukewarm ness to enthusiasm in the faith. The three steps are (a) John went into the desert, (b) the word of God came to him, and (c) John left the desert and went about proclaiming the faith. We also must pass through these three stages to arrive at the stage where we begin to live the life of faith with joy.
Stage 1- We go into the desert. The desert is a place of being alone with God. We go into the desert when we take time off our normal job and household occupation to be with God in church, in prayer, in reading the word of God. The desert is the place where we encounter God. We ourselves must take the first step to go into the desert, to reach out to God, to look for God.
Stage 2 – The word of God comes to us. Once we open our hearts to God in the desert, God Himself comes and fills us up. A saint once said that when we take one step to God, God takes two steps to us. At this stage God takes the initiative to come to us, to fill us, to renew us, to transform us, to remold us into God’s image that we are created to be. This is the stage that some people call being born again. When this happens to us we would like to spend the whole day alone with God in church, in prayer, in Bible reading. But like John we must go on to live our lives and carry out our duties in the family and in the society.
Stage 3 – We go about proclaiming the faith. Having experienced the goodness of the Lord in our own lives, our next desire is to share this experience with others. It’s like we are wearing a tee-shirt with the inscription, “Wow, God is great!” People look at us and see the joy and peace and serenity that radiates from us and they would like to be like us. They would like to be our friends. And then we can in turn help them by showing them the pathway to the desert, the place where they, in their turn, will encounter God personally. The experience of God is like the experience of love. You can tell people about it but they will not understand what you are talking about until they themselves experience it.
I came to Memphis directly from India on Sept 27th 2004. One of the 1st challenges I faced was getting a driver’s license. In India I used to drive in the other side( wrong side ) of the road. I had to forget everything that I learned in India and start all over again. By the middle of December I purchased a car, and got the driver’s license and started driving around to learn the places and city. One day I was driving around the city in 240 and everybody was going fast in four different lanes and all on a sudden the speed was reduced to nothing. The four lanes were merging into two because construction was going on. There were signs that said, “Slow Down — Construction Ahead” and I saw road graders, gravel trucks, and a lot of men working on the highway. I thought to myself, “What a nice highway this will be when it is completely finished and there is no more construction.” That was 14 years ago and I still travel 240 highways from time to time. Guess what? They are still working on it! You see, by the time they finish working on one part of the highway, there is another place that needs to be repaired! Even some part they have repaired before may need to be repaired again. They will never finish working on it. This reminds me of the story of the first Christmas. The Bible tells us that God sent a man named John to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. John told the people to make a highway in the desert for their God. He told them to make the crooked ways straight and to make the rough places smooth. John wasn’t really talking about building a highway upon which Jesus could travel. He was really talking about the hearts of the people. He was calling people to prepare their hearts to receive Jesus so that Jesus could bring them salvation and peace!.
During this special season of the year when we celebrate Jesus’ birth and look forward to the day when he will come again, you and I need to make sure that we are ready. We need to look into our hearts and ask God to make our crooked ways straight and smooth out the rough places. Oh, I know, we have done it before, but it is just like that 240, the job is never finished. Every day we do things that we shouldn’t do and we need to ask God to forgive us and to make our hearts clean.
In the opening prayer for this Mass we said, “God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy.” In order for this to happen, we must resolve, in this season of advent, to take the first step, to make room for God, make time for church, for prayer, for hearing the word of God.