Sunday, December 6, 2009
This week is the Second Sunday of Advent and it is always John the Baptist.
The reading itself is pretty straight forward (forgive the pun).
Luke 3: 1 - 6
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiber'i-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae'a and Trachoni'tis, and Lysa'ni-as tetrarch of Abile'ne,
2 in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca'iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari'ah in the wilderness;
3 and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
The part that really speaks to me is the latter part - the part about making the paths straight, filling in the valleys, lowering the mountains and hills, and making the rough ways smooth.
Having spent a career in the Army, I know a lot about making my way around ground that is usually rough and walking up and down and around mountains and hills.
I guess that is why our interstate system has been such an amazing accomplishment to me as I got older and learned to appreciate it. For most us, that is the norm. Driving down the interstate freeways and highways at 55 or 75 mph it is easy to forget that this was a recent accomplishment in mankind's history.
In most parts of the world, people still travel along narrow, barley improved roads. Trails are made by the feet of people and livestock over years of use. When the country really starts to get prosperous they may actually level some of it and put gravel down, but for most of the world - it's dirt and rocks. They meander along finding the easiest way to whatever destination is at the end of the trail. They go around rocky spots, lakes and ponds, switching back and forth, over natural passes and most of the time - it's not smooth. You have to watch your footing because it is easy to slip and sprain an ankle.
Our interstates are different. Having driven back and forth across our country, I can tell you that it is a wonder. You can really appreciate it in the flat parts of the country, Montana and Kansas, you can come across flat ground that stretches to the horizon and you see the interstate straight down the middle - like someone took a pencil and a ruler and made a line to the edge of the earth and sky. Granted sometimes that means you start to wonder how long it will take you to get to the end at 75 mph but it's a testament to the skills of the surveyors who made these roads.
It is equally impressive, perhaps more, when you hit the rolling hills. As you go up and down, you notice every once in a while that a pass has been hewn through a hill or a mountain. You see the remains of it rise on either side of you as you drive down the middle. Or sometimes you go through a tunnel that has been blasted clear through the mountain! Not that long ago, in our grandparents time, the road would have gone around but now the path has been made straight by technology and dynamite. It is wonder for those that can see it.
So the idea of making a path straight loses its impact for most of us living in the first world. For those in the Biblical time (and for most of the world today), the reference would have been an amazing statement of the importance of the Lord. For those travelers used to rough journeys by foot, only the most important people would merit this kind of treatment. The Romans built roads but they did not fill the valleys or lower the hills - this would have been unthinkable except for the most powerful and important because it would have taken so much effort.
But the prophecy wasn't really talking about roads.
It was talking about our hearts and our souls and that is even harder than filling a valley or lowering a mountain. Our technology can make the roads straight but making our souls straight is much harder.
How do we prepare the way for the Lord to enter our lives when we are so easily tempted by the Devil to sin? When despite our best efforts, we fail over and over again?
The answer is really two fold. First we ask God to enter our lives. Then we repent our sinful ways and ask for forgiveness.
You would think that the first would be easy but there are many that just won't do it. They've heard about God but they want more proof, or they are just unwilling to submit to a higher power. They say they are "good" people that lead "good" lives and that should be enough. They don't need God to answer to because they are answering to themselves. They won't ask God to enter their lives because they have taken the position of God for themselves.
Even for those of us that have asked God to enter our lives, the second part hangs us up. Repenting our sins is hard because it means we have to give up the sin. And we like the sin. Whether that is alcohol, drugs, pornography, whatever - part of us likes it and that's why we keep doing it. We know we should give it up but it is hard and so repenting it is so difficult. And even when we do repent, we usually fall short and then we have guilt.
But that is the price for preparing the way for the Lord to enter our lives. We must repent. Even if we fail, we must keep trying to give up our sinful ways.
The good news is that God wants to help us. The Church as given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help us. The grace of God is that even if we come up short, God is ready to help us - he has already forgiven us, he just needs us to repent and forgive ourselves.
It is not impossible to make the paths straight for our Lord to enter our souls. All it takes is for us to repent.
Adventus means coming - Christ is coming, shouldn't you prepare now for his arrival? It is not too late - repent and be saved!