Reading I Isaiah 40:1-5
Psalm 85 9-14
Reading II 2 Peter 3:8-14
Gospel Mark 1:1-8
This morning we celebrate the second Sunday in Advent and, as we know, in Advent we are looking forward to the coming of Christ at Christmas. And not just Christ’s coming at Christmas but also we think about the Second Coming — that comes at our death, or at the end of the world. So, the question we are faced with is: Are we ready, and are we prepared? And if not, what do we need to do to prepare ourselves?
In the second reading today from Saint Peter, Peter talks about the end of time and he talks about Heaven. If we think about it, what is heaven? When I go into the classroom students ask, “What is heaven like? Is heaven up there in the sky, or where is it?”
We don’t really know a lot about heaven except we know it is a wonderful place. We know it is a place where we are with God, we know there is no sickness, there is no sadness — there is just joy and love. From the Second Reading Peter talks about time, that in heaven a thousand years is equal to a day, and a day is equal to a thousand years.
There is no question we all want to get to heaven. The question is — are we going to get to heaven, and that is the challenge? That is the challenge of Advent, getting ready for Christmas when we meet Jesus face to face and he says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
There is a story about a priest who went to visit a parishioner. As he was walking up to the house he heard these screams, “You’re crazy. Your crazy. We talk and you just don’t listen.” This was the wife calling the husband crazy — however, most of us have probably had that experience either way.
The point is she was upset. She said, “Every year we go through this. Every year you go out and buy a Christmas tree, and every year I say, ‘Buy a small one so we can fit it in the right place.’ But every year you go out and buy the biggest and tallest tree you can find. Then, like today, you can barely get it in the door. But the worst part is —
‘Where do we put it?’
“Every year you have to cut off the bottom because the tree is too tall. And then where do we put it? If we put it in the dining room I have to move some furniture to the attic and to the basement, I have to rearrange things and it is just horrible. And here you are, you do it again. You’re crazy!”
Well, the priest thought about that for a while and then said to the man, “Well, I can understand why she is upset and obviously you were not listening. You talk about this every year and you do the same thing over and over.”
But then the priest began to think about this in a different way and he said, “You know, the purpose of Advent is to make sure that Christ is central in our lives — in my life and your life, in the life of your family, and in the life of our parish. The bottom line is — putting Christ in the center of our family is like bringing that Christmas tree into the house. If we are going to find a place for Jesus, we are going to have to make a place for him. We may have to make a change. We may have to change the furniture within our own lives to make sure that this tree, this Christ, is at the center of our lives.”
One of the problems in our lives today is that the world tries to convince us that happiness lies in material things. I am not going to lie — it is nice to have new things, it is nice to have different things. That is OK. But if we are not careful the material things become our God. And in our house the furniture is all this stuff that isn’t God at the center. So the question we need to ask ourselves this morning is: What do we need to do to move the furniture in our lives, and to change the furniture to make sure that Christ is in the center?
What are our priorities? What are our additions and the things we do all the time that we think that are important? But when we look to the end, and we look at heaven — those material things are really not all that important.
How do we need to change? What do we need to do as a husband or wife that would make our relationship better? What to we need to do as parents and children to make our relationships better? What to we need to do in our relationships with our friends? All of that means a changing of our furniture. It means making a change in our life to make God number one.
We all want to be happy. God wants us to be happy. But happiness means that we have God at the center of what we do. You can look at people who have all the material things in the world — they may be millionaires — does that guarantee happiness? Did you know there are more millionaires who commit suicide? Obviously, happiness isn’t money. Happiness is when we make God a part of who we are. And happiness doesn’t mean that we are “happy, happy all time.” It means we have God with us all the time and we will be able to do what needs to get done — and it will be OK.
That is what Advent is all about. It is about looking at ourselves, looking at our furniture, and looking at our priorities and asking, “What do we need to change?”
And not change for the next two weeks to Christmas, but to change permanently.
We celebrate Christmas and that is a wonderful thing. However, the most important question is: When we die, or the end of time comes, are we ready? And being ready doesn’t last four weeks, it lasts 52 weeks a year.
In our Gospel today Mark tells us about the prophet Isaiah who says, “There is someone who is going to come who will tell us how to live and help prepare us for the coming.”
Our Scriptures tell us who that person is — it is the messenger John the Baptist. John’s job was to point to Jesus and say, “This is how we are suppose to live our life.”
John tells the people to repent and to go to the Jordon River and be baptized and ask for repentance of their sins.
That same message is what we are asked to do today. How do we do that?
Number One: Prayer. Every morning when we wake up, we should thank God that we lived through the night and that we are now awake, and ask for guidance for the day ahead.
Number Two: When we go to bed at night we should thank God for the day, whether it was good, bad or indifferent.
Number Three: In the morning we need to say, “Today everything I do God is for you. Please be a part of me when I make my decisions. Please be a part of me when I meet someone so I greet him or her appropriately.”
Number Four: Formation needs to be a part of who we are — meaning we need to continually learn about God by reading Scripture, joining small groups, and by learning more about the church. We are in a journey of faith. None of us are there. So in our faith formation, are we learning more each day so we can become closer to God?
Number Five: Hospitality. Are we friendly people, are we a welcoming people, not just as a parish but also as individuals. Are we approachable to other people? Are we Christ to one another?
Finally: We need to be a people of service. Bringing things each week during Advent is helping others. Today we are taking up a collection for our sister parish in Haiti. How can we be of service to others? Service is not necessarily money, or bringing goods — service can be helping others. It can be as simple as changing a light bulb. Service is using your talent for the benefit of other people.
We are a faith community dedicated to God to bring his message to one another. We are all called to be a disciple. And Advent is the time to focus and self evaluate to see if we are on the right track.
This morning Agnus Rose and Susan will be baptized and all of their sins taken away, just as John the Baptist baptized his followers in the Jordon River. Except the difference today is that John also said, “I, John, baptize you with water. But there is one who will come after me who will baptized you with the spirit.” So this morning these children will not only be baptized with water for the forgiveness of their sins, but they too will receive the Holy Spirit.
This afternoon as our second graders receive reconciliation for the first time, they are going to receive a glimpse of the goodness of God and how, if they are sorry for their sins, no matter what they are — they are forgiven.
We truly are a blessed people, a people filled with faith and love. We come here to praise God, to be fed at this table with his real body and blood, and we come here to support each other. That is why baptisms take place in front of everyone here, because they are being admitted into our family. And that means that we have an obligation to help them grow in their faith and to live a happy life.
So today as we receive the Eucharist, let use that nourishment to look at ourselves and self-evaluate and ask, “Do we have Christ as the center of our life? And what furniture or changes do we need to make — to make sure that Jesus truly is number one.”
* * *
Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.