Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on December 9, 2017 at the 4:00pm and December 10, 2017 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
Do you know John the Baptist, Winnie the Pooh, and Smokey the Bear share two things in common? They both eat honey and they have the same middle name.
Sorry about that, but there are not that many John the Baptist jokes, and that is probably the best one. But there probably should not be any John the Baptist jokes because he is one of the most serious characters in all of scripture and we need to take him seriously. He was chosen by God for a very serious and important mission. John the Baptist of all people was chosen by God to prepare the world for the coming of the Lord. John the Baptist is the symbol for Advent, because the word advent means, “coming.” That is what we do each Advent. We prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas and we prepare for the coming of the Lord into our hearts. John the Baptist is our model for best how to prepare for the Lord’s coming at Christmas and how to best spend our time this Advent.
I work with a guy who doesn’t like to hunt, but his father does. His father is getting on in years and so he thought his father should no longer be in the woods hunting alone, so he went with him this year. When he came back to work I asked him how it went. “It was terrible,” he said. “We sat in a tree all day without beer, freezing to death, and I was bored to death.” “Did you get a deer?” I asked. “We didn’t see any deer. We only saw squirrels from our tree,” he said. “You didn’t go look for deer?” I asked. “No,” he said, “my dad said real hunters don’t find deer, the deer find them.”
I think we can sometimes believe the same thing in our hunt our hunt and pursuit of God, especially during Advent, the season of waiting. Often, we wait for God to come to us, instead of hunting or searching for God ourselves. We often wait for God to make the first move in our lives, instead of the other way around. But John the Baptist calls everyone to go out in search of God.
John the Baptist had people search for God in the solitude of the desert, out away from the cities and towns, to leave the noise and busy-ness of life behind. In the Bible the desert is symbolic of peace and solitude, and peace and solitude allow you to find God. The guy I work with was having a bad day at work and he said, “Oh, how I wish I was back in that tree stand in the woods. It was so peaceful and quiet, nobody was bothering me, and I had absolutely nothing to do. It was wonderful.” John the Baptist drew people out into the desert so that they could find moments of quiet and solitude, and it is in those moments that our Lord comes to us. We need moments like this in Advent, during Christmas, and at all times of the year so that we have the quiet we need to find God.
The desert is also symbolic of trusting in and relying upon God. In biblical times you could not survive long in the desert on your own. There were no stores to buy bottles of water, no electricity to keep it cold, no air-conditioned vehicles, or shaded areas by a swimming pool. You had to trust that God was going to take care of you. We may face difficulties like illness or surgery, the loss of a job, problems with our families or drugs and alcohol which may cause us to question God’s plan for our life. Just watching the news each night may make us question God’s plan for the world. John the Baptist was calling people, and is calling us today, to believe in God and his plan for us and for the world, to recognize that our Lord is coming to us even when he seems so distant and far away.
I was reading an article this past week called, “How to Clear Snow from Your Driveway Without Dying,” and I realized two things. First, it’s a miracle that I have not yet died shoveling snow, because apparently I am doing it completely wrong and I am putting my life at risk. Second, we worry more about snow preventing us from getting to work, school, or other places than we do about all the stuff in our life that is preventing us from getting to God: the to-do lists, the sports and other activities, the tv programs, and during the Christmas season the cleaning, decorating, baking, shopping, and all the other preparations we make. But John the Baptist wants us to prepare for what is truly important during the season of Christmas: our Lord’s coming into the world and into our lives. John wants us to “prepare the way of the Lord…to make straight his paths” Are we ready? Are we prepared for the Lord’s coming this Christmas? Unlike the other preparations we make for Christmas, this doesn’t involve much time, effort, or expense on our part. We just go into the desert of quiet and solitude to be with our Lord: whether at Mass, confession, or simply spending time in conversation with him in prayer, or simply sitting with him in adoration.
The people in today’s gospel didn’t wait to hear about God. They didn’t wait for John the Baptist to go on tour and come to Jerusalem. They didn’t wait for God to come to them. They went out into the desert, they trusted in God and his message and plan for them, and they went looking for God. Is our spiritual life that important to us?
John the Baptist is asking us to go out of our way and make time for and trust in the Lord this Advent. We need to take some time to have a few moments of quiet and solitude, to symbolically climb into a tree stand or go into the desert, away from the hustle and bustle of the season, the shopping, the parties, or even trying to get your work and schoolwork projects completed before the end of the year, so that we can find our Lord and our Lord can find us this Advent.
Whatever time we spend with our Lord this Christmas, we are going to receive many gifts from him, but all of the gifts he give us ultimately lead to the gift of eternal life.
Rejoice and be glad!