Advent: time to figure out which commandments I’ve been breaking and squeeze in confession before Christmas.
Is that the message of today’s readings?
Sure, that’s part of it. But primarily an announcement is being made. God is going to do something!
He’s going to comfort (Is 40:1) and forgive (Is 40:2) and care for the needy (Is 40:11). Ultimately, he is going to transform everything for the good of humanity (2 Pt 3). In the meantime, he’s going to come himself, as Jesus of Nazareth (Mk 1). And Jesus is going to give the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8).
Today, though, it’s easier for me to swipe past the announcements and focus on doing a little something to clean up my act before Christmas.
Perhaps this is because today nothing in the announcements feels terribly real. “Comfort” sounds like a greeting card word. Forgiveness is for big sinners (not me). It looks like there are a lot of needy people who aren’t getting their needs met. Jesus seems to be somewhere out there in the distance. And the Holy Spirit — who is that?
Why would what God is doing seem so far from me? Well, the spiritual life has highs and lows. Maybe the tide has gone out today. Things will look different tomorrow. A good workout and a full night’s sleep could make a world of difference.
Maybe, though, the coming of God’s kingdom in the world seems unreal to me because I don’t feel a need for what God is doing. And maybe, underneath that feeling, is a fear that activating my faith and opening myself to God’s action could make serious demands on me.
If that’s the case, repentance for me means changing how I look at my life — recognizing, first of all, that my greatest need is precisely to connect with what God is doing in the world right now. (The Greek word for repentance in today’s Gospel does mean “change of mind.”)
And my most important act of preparation for Christmas would be to tell the Holy Spirit, “OK, you be at work in me and through me however you wish.”
The question is: Do I want the reality of Christmas? Or will I be happy with just the tinsel?