An Invitation to Change our Lives
In this beautiful homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B, Father Hanly tells us Advent is an invitation to change our lives.
First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Second Reading: Second Peter 3:8-14
Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
The sound quality is very poor at the beginning of this recording but it improves as it goes along and it is very well worth persevering and we have done our best to transcribe it (below).
(Beginning of homily missing/inaudible)
… we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christmas.
These are very difficult times, I suppose, and Christmas is a little bit less lavish than it has been in years past. And my own feeling is it makes it a little bit easier to celebrate the coming of Christmas because Christmas is a poor man, with a poor wife and a helpless child.
Sometimes we get carried away with lights and parties and flashes of this and that, and we forget the real meaning of Christmas, which, of course, is learning how to love, learning how to care, learning how to be brothers and sisters to each other.
And while we welcome the change in the atmosphere to a certain degree, because there should be lots of light (inaudible) is the light of the world. And to see it filling our city in the evening time is a deep and good reminder that he had come to bring light into darkness.
Now one of the things, I think, that we must understand during Advent, one of the reasons why we speak of darkness is because the light only shines in the darkness.
And when we speak of darkness what do we mean by that?
We do not mean that we are living in futility and marching through darkness all our days.
But it has something to do with why the Redeemer comes. He comes to redeem us from sin, basically.
And sin, basically, is separation from God. Separation from the One who created us, loves us, who yearns to be with us, who follows us even when He is not invited, intruding on our lives in ways like an old father who kind of frowns at how we manage to tangle them up in such ways that it begins to feel sometimes that we ourselves are caught in the darkness rather than in the light.
Advent, however, is not a call to recognize our sin, which it is, but it is an invitation to change our lives. The hardest thing in the world is perhaps to change our lives.
But this is John the Baptist coming out of the desert, the last of the great prophets. It’s been over a hundred years since the people of Israel, the children of Israel, had seen and heard a prophet. He is very recognizable because he is dressed like Elijah the prophet, the clothes are Elijah the prophet, the words are the excitement of Elijah the prophet, the greatest prophet who never wrote a word but was the greatest and the first of the great prophets of Israel.
And they all have the same message. The Lord has come. Prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord. Prepare yourself. Make straight his paths.
What he means by that is straighten yourselves out.
Make straight his paths. I remember a very good explanation of the real meaning of that “make straight his path” is the Chinese saying about certain people are “wan wan cook cook,” all crooked and turned. It’s a very good description “wan wan cook cook,” because that’s what we very often are.
What is the opposite of that?
Being honest with yourself. Being truthful to yourself. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not. Make straight the path so that the Lord can come and nestle into your hearts and make you transparent and open, make you no longer afraid to be what you really are because in his eyes you are much richer than you yourself (inaudible) and much more higher in his eyes than you yourselves make yourselves to be among men.
It is indeed God Himself who comes to walk down the straight paths and into our hearts. And what we must do, what we must be, is honest. Very simple. Be honest with each other. Be honest with the way you look at the world, knowing that the world needs honesty, it needs truth.
Albert Einstein used to say, when he was told that the Declaration of Independence in America was “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he used to say the pursuit of happiness is for idiots.
That’s kind of startling. But what he meant was this. They said, “Well, what should we pursue?” He said, “You should pursue truth. You should pursue beauty. Not running around trying to be happy, happy, happy, buying things, doing things that will make you happy, happy, happy. Because they’re never going to make you happy. But if you pursue truth, if you pursue the things that are really your own hearts hunger for: love, forgiveness, compassion, these are the truths that are worth laying your life down for.”
And that is what Jesus comes to give you. He comes not only to teach us. He comes to live it. Love, self sacrificing to the point of death. And that, of course, is the beginning of the new world that the little child brings to us.
There’s a story about change and how difficult it is.
It’s about a bird sitting on a tree, on the bough of a tree, in some South Pacific island. And he was quite happy in his little paradise, except things don’t look too good. There’s threatening signs around him maybe of air pollution or what have you, but the paradise isn’t exactly a paradise.
Anyhow, he’s very content. He’s sitting there and a bird flies over. And he says to the bird that flies over, “Where are you going?” He says, “I’m going to a place not too far from here. But if you fly it will take three days and you will land in this place and this place is wonderful. It’s got green trees. And it’s got flowers. It’s like a whole new place in which we birds can feel at home and safe and sound.”
And so the bird sitting on the tree says, “Well, that’s okay for you.” And the other bird says, “No, no come with me.” “No, I don’t think so. I think it’s okay here.”
Well about three days later, a storm comes and it tears half the tree apart and now he’s only got this straggly little branch that he’s sitting on. And another bird comes and he says, “I’m going to show you this wonderful place. Come with me and I’ll bring you to that place.” And the little bird looks up at him and he says, “No, no, I’m quite satisfied here.”
And this goes on for a couple more years. And another bird comes and he says, “This is your last chance now, because a terrible typhoon is coming, a terrible typhoon, and it’s going to destroy everything on this island.” And the little bird says, “Well, I don’t know. I just can’t make up my mind.”
The next day, the typhoon comes and this typhoon grabs the tree and throws it up into the sky. And the bird, he grabs the bird and he hurls him twenty miles up in the air, and he catches him and throws him out into the seas and half drowns him, and, finally, after a long time, he throws the bird onto the beach.
The little bird goes to the beach and he sees the small bird standing there and he says, “You finally made it. What took you so long?”
And he would love to have said I chose to follow your good advice. But the truth is I was blown here by the typhoon. And the other little bird says, “It doesn’t matter how you get here as long as you get here.” And so all the birds live happily ever after.
I like that story because it strikes me that, very often, the great problems of life come from the freedom that God gave us. It doesn’t come from where you were born or whether you have a good living or a bad living or a friendly living or what have you. It doesn’t come from coming from a different country or a different nation. The pain comes from us having to choose.
And this is what John the Baptist was saying. He is saying make straight the paths because God Himself is coming. And He is going to take you into a world that you cannot dream of. But it will be a world very unlike the one you’re in now, living in fear, constant threats, all these things. And He will make you safe. And He will make you whole.
And, of course, this is the promise of the Messiah, who comes to heal us, to save us, to teach us how to live, to teach us how to become what he himself has planned that we will become. God has come to make us human and not ashamed of it that we might become divine and rejoice in the new life that He comes to give us.
So this Advent is not a time of groaning. It’s a time for recognition that John the Baptist stands before you and says, “This is your God Himself. The One who created you, who loves you and will give you everlasting life, is coming. It’s time to choose.”
And what do you choose? You choose to be truthful, to be honest, to care, to share and to understand that the God who is coming has already come. And he is going to bring you to the next step.
And the next step is that He is going to make you a person who knows by living your life throughout the world, by living it in honesty and care, by living it in the way you deeply want to live it in your own hearts, that you will become the messiah to the world.
For Jesus is a Messiah who has come to create messiahs. He is the Son of God who has come to make sons and daughters of the world.
And so it is this Christmas we should already be full of joy and peace and happiness.
It must be a human choice. And the choice is not out of fear, not out of dread, not out of anything to keep the little bird hanging on to the bough.
The only way is to learn to love, and to learn the lesson that is given to us to learn, and, each day, that we too might become one with the little child, one with the Messiah, one with the Saviour of the World.