Second Sunday of Advent
4 December 2011
One of the most basic of our human needs is to find an explanation for things and a sense of purpose and direction in our lives. The search for an answer usually involves a long journey and often many wrong turns. A little fish in the ocean said to an older fish “Excuse me, you are much older than I, so can you tell me where to find what they call the ocean?” “The ocean is where you are now,” said the older one. “But this is water. What I am looking for is the ocean,” said the disappointed little fish, as he swam away to look elsewhere. For various reasons we may not accept the answer even if it is all around us.
A neighbour called one day and found his friend in the kitchen on his hands and knees. “What are you searching for?” he asked. “My key”, he said. Both men got on their knees and searched. After a while, the neighbour asked, “Where did you lose it?” “In the car park at the shopping centre”, he replied. “Good Lord”, said the neighbour, “why are you searching here? “Because it’s brighter here,” he replied.
The search for an answer goes on but often in the wrong places and we can be drawn and dazzled by bright lights.
The wilderness sets the scene of today’s Gospel. It’s an unusual place to go looking for answers to anything but it played an important role in the history of the Jewish people. It was after years in the wilderness that they entered the country in which they were to live. It was in a sense the birthplace of the people of God
The wilderness – mountains and hills that stretch into the far distance, deserts with uncultivated vegetation, vast areas and wild places inhabited only by wildlife, if inhabited at all – these are not always places of beauty and peace set aside from the stresses of everyday life. We may be deterred from going there through fear of the unknown or we may be drawn by its mystery and want to enter and attempt to discover its secrets. For the people of Israel it was a place of temptation, trial and tribulation, where they murmured and rebelled against God until they found their way under God’s direction through their leaders and finally entered their homeland. Now a new prophet had appeared in the desert wilderness and, speaking with an air of authority and authenticity, he was drawing the crowds and telling them that he was preparing the way for someone more important and powerful than himself.
You could say we have in our own time made a version of wilderness for ourselves. Living on borrowed money, on borrowed time, following bad example and bad advice we have landed ourselves in a difficult situation. As a country, borrowing something in the region of €58million each day to keep the lights on, we hardly need the experts to tell us we have no option but to face reality and do what has to be done by way of correction. With people facing the demands of Christmas while uncertain and worried about the future of their job, their home, their health needs and so many other concerns it is not easy. It is not surprising that there is an air of murmuring and protest about.
The book of Wisdom says, “While peaceful silence lay over all, and the night had run half of her swift course, down from the heavens leapt (God’s) all powerful Word.” The same Word speaks to us again today through John the Baptist. He does not have a big salary nor a sizeable pension nor many possessions. He lives frugally on what the earth provides. In his words and by his example, he suggests we may need to disengage from the path of living we have got used to, take a while to think things over, straighten things out and get used to a simpler way of life where the more important things get priority.
Another prophet Micah put it very simply when he told us “This is what God asks of you : That you act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.” When John the Baptist urges people to repent, to change their ways and ask forgiveness of their sins he is doing so in the name of a God who is described by Isaiah in our First Reading in these terms:
“He is like a shepherd feeding his flock,
gathering lambs in his arms
holding them against his breast
and leading to their rest the mother ewes.”
Let us ask the Lord to take the blindness from our eyes, the weakness from our wills, and the hardness from our hearts so that the world may be flooded by the grace of his coming.