Readings: Isaiah 11: 1-10; Psalms 72, Response: Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.; Romans 15:4-9
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
The episode in today’s Gospel is a very dramatic call to the graces of Advent. The historical context delivers the first “punch” of the drama.
For 400 years the prophetic voice had been silent. So when John the Baptist appeared, you can imagine the stir he caused when he began his prophetic ministry, a ministry crowned by martyrdom and which Christ praised: “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” (Luke 7: 28)
John the Baptist’s call to repentance is a call to remembering. Imagine how 400 years of silence can lead to a sense of forgetfulness.
As in all human experiences, if we do not consciously remember as we go farther and farther away from the original inspiration, we tend to forget. This can lead to a distortion, sometimes unintended. It often degenerates into harmful, if not malicious, behavior not aligned with the original inspiration.
Such was the case of the religious authorities John the Baptist denounced in the Gospel as a “brood of vipers.”
Let us illustrate this Advent grace of remembering. Whenever I prepare a couple for marriage, I always ask them to take stock of the blessings most meaningful to them, individually and as a couple.
I also ask them to remember the moment, the original inspiration, when it became clear to them that they could spend the rest of their lives together in love and commitment.
Then I tell them that after their wedding, they should make memories together when everything is close to the inspiration, and thus clear and graced. I advise them that during challenging moments in the future, they can always go back on these memories.
This is what it means to repent. It is to be reminded to go back to those moments when our original inspiration of our relationship with God was clear and graced.
Call to repentance
This is John the Baptist’s call to repentance. It is to remember. It is to reconnect to the original inspiration: the covenant between Abraham, our father in faith and God.
In the context of Advent, it is our covenant with God in Christ who will be Emmanuel—what we celebrate every Christmas— and makes possible our own covenant with God: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
Time and day-to-day experiences naturally cause wear-and-tear. This is why a regular pit stop is helpful, if not necessary. In the realm of prayer and mental health, these are the moments of silence, reflection and prayer in the day-to-day.
This is why Sunday worship is important. The Mass is a special, graced moment of remembering, a memorial of the Lord’s supper: “Do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22: 19) It is one of our deepest moments to reconnect with Christ and the original inspiration of the faith, hope and love he gave us.
This is why praying together in community, as a family, is important, too. It reminds us of and reconnects us to the inspiration that brought us together as a community, as a family.
Beyond family and our immediate community, remembering and reconnecting to original inspirations is “good practice.” The Advent graces can bear fruit in other areas of our life—as a church, of course, but also as a people, as a nation, as individuals or communities on mission.
Advent is active waiting, and part of this is the remembering of why we have the season of Advent; because Christ came as Emmanuel, he fulfilled his mission by dying on the Cross and being raised by his Father.
All these remind us of what and who we wait for. Christ will come again.