For all the world John the Baptist looked the part of a first century hippie with his long hair, rough coat and open sandals. The crowds flocked to hear him preach in stern uncompromising language as he fearlessly denounced evil wherever he found it. His words were clear-cut in their simplicity. He came with a definite mission – to announce to the people that God’s kingdom was at their doorstep and if they wanted to enter it their present approach to life needed to be changed.
John challenged people to reform their lives, to repent of their sins and undergo a baptism of purification in the Jordan. When a group of Pharisees and Sadducees approached, he confronted their complacency and warned them not to depend upon the good name of past generations. Being a descendant of Abraham would count for nothing if good deeds were not evident in their lives. As a preacher, teacher and prophet John pointed beyond himself and was a signpost to the coming of Christ into the world.
The call of John to repentance is an urgent invitation for us to prepare a way for the Lord to come into our hearts. And when we come right down to it, that is what Advent is all about. Preparing to celebrate Christmas means renewing our lives by acknowledging our need for Christ who is constantly calling us to higher things. John warns us that the greatest obstacle to the coming of Christ into our souls is sin. We have the freedom to accept or ignore his advice. Our faith reminds us that we have a responsibility to make present the values of Christ wherever we go. This is not possible unless we are making a constant effort to root out the sin that keeps recurring in our lives. To settle for less is to treat Christ as if he were a passing guest and not a forceful presence influencing our actions.
Each Advent is an opportunity for us to come closer to Christ and deepen our relationship with him through prayer and repentance. His power is at work in our lives when we make peace with the family member we have rejected, the relations we don’t speak to, the neighbours we have fallen out with, the poor we have no time for and whose plight we don’t want to know about. Breaking down the barriers will open the way for Christ to come to us and be born in our hearts at Christmas.
Fr Peter Tipene