Second Sunday of Advent (December 4, 2016)
Many of us have had the experience while listening to the radio or watching TV, a voice interrupts: “We interrupt this program to bring you this important announcement.” With all the shopping, the baking, the decorating, the card writing of this time - - it sounds strange to hear the prophets breaking into our pre-Christmas chaos that is almost routine.
Advent is the spiritual time when we turn our attention to meeting our Lord: either the meeting at the end of time or our meeting him at the time of our death . . . whichever comes first. And - although we never know for sure - the likelihood is that we will not be meeting him for the first time at his Second Coming.
Prophets - for many of us growing up - were persons who foretold the future. These were prophets in the tradition of Jeanne Dixon. In our maturity we come to understand that the prophets were people who help us look into rather than look ahead.
Prophets are introduced into the Advent readings because the dispositions that the prophets call us to are the dispositions we are to have when we meet our lord. In the first reading, we meet Isaiah, perhaps the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He was, at once, fearless and poetic. He describes the ideal leader who was not gifted with health, wealth, and popularity -- but the person who was gifted with wisdom and counsel, strength and knowledge. As time played out, that prophet was Jesus.
In our Gospel reading, we meet john the Baptizer, the cousin of our Lord - not to be confused with John, one of the sons of Zebedee, the beloved disciple, the one to whom is attributed the fourth Gospel authorship.
John the Baptizer is not the most pleasant person to hear about or visualize. His words are not pleasing to our ears. No one likes to hear about the chaff being burned out of our lives. He is a radical, absolutely, single-minded, ruthless in his pursuit of God’s reign in the lives of all. Advent is a time of looking into our hearts. It is a time of looking at what is present there and determining where we are to grow if we are to meet our lord without fear in our hearts.
Prophets exist in the New Testament, too. They are spiritual giants who give us insights into ourselves. Men and women who call us to grow and give us help in growing.
St. Francis de Sales was a prophet who gives us help to grow in a more positive way than some traditional, ascetic, punitive practices. Francis de Sales is a prophet who leads us along a positive approach. Unlike John the Baptizer and ascetics who follow in his tradition, Francis emphasizes the love God has for us and our personal goodness. He encourages us to build on that goodness and respond to God’s love by loving God back and loving God’s other children. In doing this, we spiritually grow.
He is the modern saint whose insight into relationship provides a sense of direction and a model for us. He sees the basic teaching of Jesus as love expressed in the two great commandments: love for God and love for neighbor. Advent is a time to look into ourselves prophetically. We need to look at two relationships: our God - our neighbor.
We know from experience - ourselves and others - that no relationship is maintained without communication. Certainly the same is true with Jesus. Are we taking the time to pray, to steal moments from our busy days - perhaps while driving, while doing dumb things that are “no brainers” [like folding wash, walking to our next required presence, driving familiar streets and roads] - spaces that provide time to be alone with our lord and express our frustrations, our joys, our sorrows? We need to take time to be present to him and allow him to be present to us.
Francis de Sales shows us how to become the person the Lord calls us to be by lovingly walking the path of life in a gentle-before-humans and a humble-before-God-manner.
It is not the manner of John the Baptizer, but it is at least equally effective without john’s diet of grasshoppers and wild honey and his fashion statement-loin cloth.