2nd Sunday of Advent Baruch 5:1–9; Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11; Luke 3:1–6
Wrong swing? Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ by setting right in our lives what needs to be set right.
It was a hot Sunday in June. Millions of Americans were watching the U.S. Golf Open on TV. At a critical point in the play, the camera focused on Jack Nicklaus. He was in the rough and preparing to shoot out.
Slowly and deliberately, he addressed the ball. Then for a full 20 seconds of prime time TV, he stood poised and ready to swing. Suddenly, at the last moment, he backed away from the ball and said loud enough for everybody to hear, “That’s the wrong swing.’’
The sports announcer covering the match was confused and said, “But he didn’t swing! What’s going on here?’’
A lot was going on. And Nicklaus explains exactly what it was in his book Golf My Way. There he describes how he prepares for every shot he takes. It’s a process called mental rehearsal. This simply means that he plays every shot in his imagination before he plays it for real. Nicklaus writes:
“It’s like a color movie. First, I ‘see’ the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white . . . on the bright green grass.
“Then the scene quickly changes and I ‘see’ the ball going there . . . even its behavior on landing.
“Then there’s a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.’’
What Jack Nicklaus was doing that hot Sunday afternoon in the U.S. Open is what the Church asks us to do during the season of Advent. The Church asks us to go through a kind of mental rehearsal to prepare for the coming of Christ.
And the coming of Christ that we are to prepare for is not just his historical coming,which we commemorate at Christmastime.
And it’s not just his sacramental coming, which takes place in each Eucharist.
Rather, and most especially, it’s his final coming,which will take place at the end of time.
Let’s turn, briefly, to this coming of Jesus.
How do we prepare for Jesus’ coming?
We prepare for it the same way John the Baptist prepared the people of his day for the first coming of Jesus.
John told the people to repent. He told them to turn away from their sins.
And if we read a few verses beyond today’s gospel reading, we find John becoming even more specific. He says:
“Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins.” Luke 3:8
The Advent preparation the Church invites us to make is this. It invites us to turn away from sin and to start living our lives as Jesus taught us to live them.
It invites us to take a hard look at our lives and to ask ourselves, “How do we stand before God right now?’’
Maybe, after we finish looking at ourselves, we’ll have to do what Jack Nicklaus had to do in the U.S. Open.
We’ll have to stop, back away from the ball, and say, “That’s the wrong swing.’’
Maybe we’ll have to make some changes.
Some years ago a moving story appeared in This Week magazine.
It was about a 17-year-old Dutch boy who tried to escape from a Nazi prison camp during World War II. He was caught, tried, and sentenced to death. Shortly before his execution, the boy wrote this letter to his father. Let me read from it.
“It is difficult for me to write this letter to you, but I have to tell you that the military court has pronounced a very heavy sentence upon us.
“Read this letter alone, and then tell Mother carefully. . . .
“In a little while at five o’clock it is going to happen . . . one moment, and then I shall be with God. . . . Is that, after all, such a dreadful transition? . . .
“I feel so strongly my nearness to God. I am fully prepared to die. . . .
“I think it is much worse for you than for me, because I know that I have confessed all my sins . . . and have become very quiet.’’
The letter is signed, “Klees.’’
Blessed is the person who will be able to say at the moment of death what that boy was able to say.
When you come right down to it, that’s what Advent is all about.
It’s a time of mental rehearsal. It’s a time of preparation.
It’s a time for taking inventory. It’s a time for asking ourselves:
“How prepared will we be when Jesus comes for us at the hour of death?
“How prepared will we be when Jesus comes for us at the end of time?
“How prepared are we to meet Jesus right now?’’ Can we say what the Dutch boy said?
“I feel so strongly my nearness to God. I am fully prepared to die. . . . I have confessed all my sins . . . and have become very quiet.’’
And if we can’t quite say that now, will we be able to say it at the end of Advent?
Series II 2nd Sunday of Advent Baruch 5:1–9; Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11; Luke 3:1–6
Prepare! Prepare! Advent is a call to prepare for the coming of Christ: God in flesh.
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist. When the Nazis took over Germany, he was arrested with other Jews and sent to a concentration camp.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl describes the sufferings that Jews endured in those camps. Surprisingly, one of the worst sufferings was that of waiting: waiting to learn what happened to loved ones, waiting to learn one’s own fate, waiting to be executed, waiting to be rescued.
This terrible waiting affected prisoners in different ways.
Some lost hope and despaired. Others lost faith and stopped believing. But others continued to wait and to pray. They never lost hope. They never despaired. They never lost faith.
What was true of Jews in Nazi Germany was also true of Jews in ancient Palestine. They, too, suffered from political oppression. They, too, suffered from the pain of waiting: waiting for the coming of the Messiah, waiting for the coming of the Promised One, waiting for the King of whom the prophets said: The LORD says, “The time is coming when I will choose as king a righteous descendant of David. . . . He will be called ‘The LORD Our Salvation.’ ”Jeremiah 23:5–6
When the Messiah didn’t come, ancient Jews responded as did modern Jews. Some lost hope. Others lost faith. But others continued to wait and to pray.
This was the climate present in Palestine prior to the coming of Jesus. And it is against this background that we must read today’s gospel story.
And what does today’s gospel story say? It says that out of the desert, like a sudden clap of thunder, came a man named John. He was dressed like the prophets of old, in clothes made of camel’s hair. And he ate locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)
His message was also like that of the prophets of old. “Turn away from your sins,” he said, “because the Kingdom of heaven is near!” Matthew 3:2
And, as in the case of the prophets of old, many people were moved by John’s words and were baptized in the Jordan.
Excitement rolled across the land like a great tidal wave. People began to say to one another, “This must be the Messiah!’’
But when John heard, he protested, saying he was simply the one of whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking when he said:
“Someone is shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare a road for the Lord;make a straight path for him to travel!’ ” Matthew 3:3
“Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!” John repeated. “Turn away from your sins!”
Prepare for the coming of the Lord. Prepare for the coming of the Promised One. Prepare for the coming of the Messiah.
Prepare with your whole mind. Prepare with your whole heart. Prepare with your whole being.
Prepare as you have never prepared before. Prepare as if your life depended on it. Prepare as if your eternal happiness depended on it. For, indeed, they do both depend on it. Indeed they do!
There’s an old, old story that illustrates the kind of jolting impactthat John was trying to make on people’s thinking.
Once there was a fabulously wealthy king who lived in a fabulously beautiful palace. But in spite of his wealth, the king had a simple heart and a deep, sincere desire to find God.
He read books. He consulted wise men. He prayed in the gold covered palace chapel. But to no avail!
One night while lying in his soft, satin bed, the king was pondering why he was having so much trouble finding God. Suddenly he heard a terrible racket on the roof of the palace.
He went to the balcony and shouted, “Who’s up there? What’s going on?’’
A voice, which he recognized to be that of a hermit who lived in a forest nearby, shouted back, “I’m looking for my goat. She’s lost, and I’m trying to find her.’’
Angered by such a ridiculous response, the king shouted back, “How can you be so stupid as to think you’ll find your goat on the roof of my palace?’’
The hermit shouted back, “And you, Your Highness! How can you be so stupid as to think that you’ll find God while dressed in silk pajamas and lying on a bed of solid gold?’’
The story concludes by saying that those simple words of the old hermit jarred the king so severely that he rose from his bed and, eventually, became a great saint.
This was what John was trying to do by the simple words, “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!”
He was trying to jar people out of their beds of apathy and complacency. He was trying to tell them that it was two minutes to midnight.
He was trying to get them to prepare for an event that they never dreamed to be possible.
The very Son of God was about to enter human history and be born as a baby not dressed in silk pajamas and lying on a bed of solid gold, but dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
This is the message of today’s readings. This is what we celebrate in today’s liturgy. This is what we pray for as we return to the Lord’s Table to prepare to break bread together.
We pray that the simple words of John will jar us from our beds of apathy and complacency. We pray that the simple words of John will jar us into realizing that it is, indeed, two minutes to midnight. We pray that we may repent,for the kingdom of heaven is, indeed, at hand.
Series III 2nd Sunday of Advent Baruch 5:1–9; Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11, Luke 3:1–6
Prepare! Advent is an invitation to celebrate Jesus’ coming in history and to prepare for his return in majesty.
Someone is shouting in the desert: “ ‘Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel!’ ” Luke 3:4
Saint Paul was martyred in Rome about A.D. 67. In spite of persecutions, Christianity continued its dramatic spread from city to city across the Mediterranean world.
One of the cities to which it spread was Pompeii, in Italy, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, a giant volcano.
One hot August morning in A.D. 79 the volcano began making rumbling sounds and belching smoke. Then horror struck. It literally exploded.
Poisonous gases poured out, filling the air and killing thousands upon thousands of people as they ran for cover or tried to escape from the city.
Next, millions of tons of volcanic debris spewed forth from it, pouring down upon the city. When the deluge was all over, Pompeii was completely buried. Not a single building or rooftop remained visible.
As the centuries passed, the tragedy of Pompeii faded into the mist of history.
Seventeen hundred years later, something remarkable happened. Treasure seekers began digging in the area of the buried city.
Their discoveries attracted archeologists, who began an excavation of the city that continues to this very day. They discovered amazing things.
For example, they discovered that decayed bodies of people, trapped in the disaster, had left cavities in the hardened ash.
By pouring liquid plaster into these cavities, they could produce statues of the bodies showing the position they were in when they died.
There were people eating. In some cases, the charred food on the table was still recognizable.
There was a man with a sword still in his hand. His foot rested on a pile of gold and silver. Scattered about him were five bodies, probably would-be looters. Still another cavity showed a mother hugging her child tightly. And so on.
You ask,What has all this to do with the season of Advent?
The purpose of Advent is to prepare for two of the greatest events of all human history.
The first is the liturgical celebration of the birth of Christ into our world.
The second is the glorious return of Christ into our world at the end of human history.
Last week’s readings focused, primarily, on preparing for the glorious return of Christ at the end human history.
This week’s readings focus, primarily, on the liturgical celebration of the birth of Christ into our world.
They urge us to prepare for this joyful celebration in the same way John the Baptist instructed the people of his time to prepare for it.
We may sum up John’s instruction in one word: “Repent!”
The word repent means to be sorry for our sins to the point that we want not only to turn away from them but also to make up for the harm they may have inflicted upon ourselves and others.
A story will illustrate the spirit of repentance we should have.
Alittle boy was visiting his grandparents. They asked him what he wanted to eat for breakfast. He replied, excitedly, “Pancakes!” Then, after a brief pause, he asked, “May I have two to start with?”
His grandmother said, “Since it’s a very special occasion, you may eat as many as you wish.”
After the boy had eaten quite a few, his grandmother noticed that he had a funny look on his face.
“What’s wrong, Robbie?” she said. “Don’t you want any more pancakes?”
“No,” said Robbie, “I don’t want any more pancakes. In fact, I don’t even want the ones I already ate!”
Robbie’s words describe the kind of spirit that John the Baptist urged the people of his time to have for their sins. It is also the kind of repentance we should strive to have as we prepare for the great liturgical celebration of Christmas.
And so repentance is being sorry for our sins to the point that we not only want to turn away from them but also want to make amends for whatever harm they may have caused.
Years ago there was a Broadway play about a young person who dropped out of school, rejected his family, and became hooked on drugs.
In a moving scene in the play, the young person looks up to heaven and cries out in a tortured voice:
“O God, how I wish you had made life like a notebook, so that I could tear out the pages on which I made mistakes and throw them away forever.”
Thanks to Jesus, our life is like a notebook.
We can tear out the pages on which we made mistakes, and throw them away forever.
In his love, Jesus gave us the sacrament of Reconciliation. Through it, we can literally tear out those parts of our life where we made mistakes and throw them away forever.
As a result, the sacrament of Reconciliation is the perfect way to prepare us for the liturgical celebration of Christ’s first coming into the world.
It is this marvelous gift that Advent holds out to us. It is this grace-filled gift that Jesus wishes to give each of us to prepare us for the blessed days ahead.
Not to make use of this incredible gift would be comparable to the personal tragedy that befell those who were caught unprepared for what happened at Pompeii in A.D. 79.