During Advent, we share spiritually in the long preparation of the people of Israel for the first coming of the Messiah. At the same time, we renew our hope and vigilance for His second coming. The Mass prayers and readings of the four weeks of Advent remind us of the coming (“the Advent”) of God’s Son to earth, “an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries” (CCC 522).
The prophet Isaiah is frequently read at liturgies during Advent. The coming of the Messiah was announced by Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets. The last of these prophets, the immediate precursor of the Lord, was Saint John the Baptist, a major figure of the Advent season. Already from his mother Elizabeth’s womb, he welcomed the coming of Christ. In this Sunday’s Gospel, John announces that the coming Messiah, mightier than he, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He exhorts the people: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The Gospel of this Sunday can help us to enter into the true spirit of Advent, to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Just as John the Baptist’s words prepared the people of his day for the coming of Jesus, so they can help us in our preparation for Christmas and in our vigilance before the second coming of Christ.
John’s message of repentance and conversion was also preached by Jesus Himself. The Greek word for this conversion is “metanoia,” which means a radical conversion of the whole person to God. It literally means “to turn around.” John the Baptist was calling for a deep interior change because something tremendous was occurring: God was descending from heaven! The kingdom of heaven was at hand!
John the Baptist recognized that the Messiah was mightier than he. He said: “I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” God was coming to His people in the person of His Son who was to inaugurate the kingdom on earth. He was coming to save His people.
We can be easily distracted from the true spirit of Advent during these busy weeks before Christmas. How are we preparing for the celebration of Christ’s birth? Advent should be a time of spiritual preparation and prayerful reflection. It’s difficult in our culture today. But let’s try! One important way to prepare, and to heed Saint John the Baptist’s call to repent, is to go to confession during Advent. Taking time for the sacrament of Penance, thus preparing our souls for the coming of the Lord, is infinitely more important than many of our other activities during this season.
If we are overly focused on, and consumed with, the material preparations for Christmas, our celebration of Christmas will be rather superficial. It may be “merry,” but it won’t be “blessed.”
Finally, returning to John the Baptist’s words about the Messiah: “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” My friends, we have received this baptism from Jesus. We have received the fire of the Holy Spirit, a fire that needs to be continually re-ignited. Advent is a good time to rekindle that fire, to repent through the sacrament of Penance, and to be more devoted to living our faith and serving our King.
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