Mt  1.1-8                       Is 40.1-5,9-11                 2 Pt 3.8-14

With Christmas around the corner now, there’s still much to be done. Last week of school is this week, with Grade 6 Graduations and end of year celebrations. The striking figure of John the Baptist echoes down through the ages, as he presents a simple but challenging  message. Last week we were told to stay awake, and now to prepare the way, but how? It’s easier said than done, in trying to focus on faith in the rush to get things done.  I certainly find that myself.

Today’s message is a reminder that we need time out here and there to reflect on what’s truly important in life.  What are our priorities when it comes to family, friends, work and leisure?  A lived and active faith requires regular discernment.

The thing about John the Baptist is that he has a great impact on most of those who follow him down to the riverside, and reflect on his call to repentance and change of ways.  I suspect that, like you and me, most people were trying to do their best in living good lives, but realizing also that there was always room for personal growth and reform, and for some, more than others,  a change of heart and direction in their lives.

So what’s Advent all about?  As a child, I remember looking forward to opening the Advent calendar, sent to us each year by my Mum’s German penfriend Ilse in Dusseldorf, from 1936 or so, day by day, each little window with a different image or symbol, to provoke thoughts about Christmas coming and what it really meant. For me, it was a time of anticipation and excitement, as I’ve always loved Christmas as a special time for celebration with family, along with all the frills, mixing the sacred and the secular, a good thing as I see it!  So let’s all enjoy the season in all of its dimensions.

But this is Advent, and a key figure in our Christian tradition is my namesake, John the Baptist (patron saint of Quebec and of Freshwater Parish where I was parish priest, as well as Manly),  appearing on the scene as a wild and woolly character from left field, wearing a hairshirt, with a strange diet of locusts and wild honey. He comes straight out of the desert, ready to challenge those of Jewish faith and tradition, to wake up to themselves and live better lives, acknowledging their sins and failings.

Godspell, both the live musical and film,  based on Matthew’s Gospel, depicts a striking charismatic character in John, coming in from the back in the darkness, blowing his horn, singing his catchy song “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”,  who, at the same time, has a humble attitude, pointing out that he is only preparing the way for someone more important in Jesus.

The prophet Isaiah is sort of the forerunner to Jesus, but it took quite a bit of time on between, as the writings date from the 8th century BC, and they say there were 3 Isaiahs who put it all together. The tone is interesting, and I’ve had 3 Masses this week with different perspectives, but all about hope for the future.

With the St Columba’s Mass on Tuesday, it was Isaiah 11, with the gifts of the Spirit first described, you know, the ones we learned off rote for Confirmation, and then talks about equity for the people, which I translate as a ‘fair go’, with a tranquil vision of the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, the calf and the lion, and the child over the snake’s hole (and we all know what happened to Cleopatra, don’t we?), the cow and the bear grazing together, the lion eating straw – yeah, sure!!

Given there is such a thing as instinct, and it’s not too likely that a lion take to a vegetarian diet!  But the message is positive and hopeful in bringing people together in peace and harmony, in all their diversity.  The hope is for a better world, and that’s the message for us, in a world, where we have a long way to go in mutual understanding and acceptance.  There’s nothing like a vivid imagination!!

Then for St Therese’s Primary School Mass, it was Isaiah 9, with the people living darkness seeing a great light, the nation growing in peace, joy and happiness, because of God’s love for his people. Now today we jump to Isaiah 40, with words of comfort and hope for a better future after dark and difficult times. It is all about a call to faith in a loving and nurturing God who is with his people to guide them along the right path, in the image of a shepherd close to his flock.

It’s not quite an ecological vision, however, with the valleys filled in, the mountains and hills to be laid low, but then the messenger called up a high mountain, slightly inconsistent!  This vision does bring to my mind the freeway across the Hawkesbury River, on the way from Sydney to Newcastle, which cuts through a beautiful part of the world, with hills, valleys, waterways and bushland branching out on either side.  It’s a reminder that the environment needs preservation and protection, whatever developments and constructions are undertaken along the way, to shorten the journey.

In all of this imagery and encouragement, there is a requirement for patience, particularly given that it took another 7 centuries or so for Jesus to arrive in person, but the hope was always there! And that was last week’s Advent theme.

John the Baptist has a simple message for us too, that we try to do better in dealing with our weaknesses and trying to do better, as for all of us, there’s room for improvement,, as there’s no perfection here, and never will be. That’s not to say we don’t keep trying.

And so, with John the Baptist showing the way this week,  we continue to prepare the Way of the Lord, for the coming Christmas season but first Advent, as people of faith and hope and action!

john hannon                                                                         10th  December  2023

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