My Dear Parishioners:
Today is the second Sunday of the four Sundays of Advent and only two and a half weeks before Christmas comes, and today we hear the great Advent voice of John the Baptist. You all know John the Baptist. He is the cousin of Jesus. He was born before Jesus, but knew Jesus as a child, for Mother Mary in the Visitation visited Elizabeth when she was pregnant with the child who was to become the precursor, the precursor of the Messiah.

And so now we have skipped from Christmas time to a much later date. In that time in history, it is about time for the Messiah to show himself to the whole world. In today’s Gospel, however, we see John the Baptist. John the Baptist grew up and, rather early in his life, he decided and declared himself for a monastic tradition, a tradition of holiness and asceticism that was quite common at that time, because there was a feeling in those days, at that time in history, that something great was coming and would come very soon. And so, he went out into the deserts around the Jordan River, and he mingled with some of the communities. The communities were charismatic communities, and they were longing and hoping for the coming of the Messiah, and he was to come very quickly, and they were expecting him in their own lifetime. And so it was that John the Baptist came out of the desert.

Why the desert?

The desert is the place where you form prophets, holy men of God, single-minded people, totally committed ascetics. And why? Because the desert is a vast wilderness and only the strong of spirit can even survive. And there’s no distraction. And a man goes out into the desert, and he is naked before the whole world. There is nothing there. Nothing. The food has to be rooted around for in the roots of very strong trees that dig their roots deep into the desert earth. And it is a very ascetic sort of life. And another reason is there’s no distractions there. There’s nothing but you and God Himself. And there he is honed and there he heard the word of God calling him to become the one who is going to announce the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people have been praying for over two thousand years and it is their great hope that God will send the one promised by Moses, the one spoken about by all the prophets, the Holy One of God, the Blessed One of God, the one that was to make Israel free and create a whole new world. And so, it was he came out dressed as Elijah the prophet had dressed many years before him, dressed in camel’s hair, existing on locusts and honey. He came with a strong and simple message: “Get ready for the coming of the Lord. Make open your hearts to receive him.”

This is the way he preaches:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The short form of this is: “Hear my voice. It is time to turn your lives around.” He came preaching. He came preaching the gospel of repentance. The word is “metanoia.” It means more than just repentance, turning around on your knees and being sorry for your sins. It means a change in your whole life because the Messiah is about to appear.

And all the business about evening out the roads and straightening them, he is saying this is what we must do, it is our roads that are crooked, it is our places where we have created deep holes to hide in. We must attend to making that road clear and straight and direct from God’s heart into our own heart. And, of course, that’s what we are supposed to do during Advent. It is a time we reshuffle our lives to look at what is important and what is not important, to look at what is perhaps more of a distraction than more of a life, to turn, once again, to becoming the kind of people that Jesus has taught us to become, that God has desired us to become: people who are self-sacrificing, those who reach out to their brothers and sisters.

This is the message of Advent. And what John, when he finishes his preaching, what John will tell us, which is true, that if you prepare your hearts, you straighten the pathways, and make it an easy road and ride for God Himself to embrace your heart, then you will have found the Messiah.

The other thing that this preparation for Christmas calls upon us to do is to remember that Christmas is a gift that is primarily the gift of God.

It is the gift of God of His Only Begotten Son, a gift given to us, and, in our turn, we are to give this gift, the gift that God has given us, to each other and to all the people in our area of life and prayer and care.

This is why Christmas is a time for gift giving and we imitate God Himself.

Fr. Monteleone

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