A young man considering a vocation with the Franciscans was invited to dinner at the local friary one evening. As dinner went on, from time-to-time, one of the friars would stand up and say a number and the rest of the friars would laugh hysterically. One stood up and said, “72,” and everyone laughed. Later, another stood and said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another stood and said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked the friar beside him what was going on. He answered, “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time. By now, we know each other jokes by heart, so we numbered them all to save time. Someone says a number and we remember the joke and laugh,” then he said, “Why don’t you give it a try. We have 300 jokes, just stand and say any number you like.” The young man stood tentatively and said, “107,” but this time there was nothing but silence. The man sat down sheepishly and asked the friar what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people can tell a joke, some can’t.”
We hear this familiar command in our Scriptures from both Isaiah and John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is, of course, a season of preparation, a season of waiting, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, the great feast of God’s Incarnation as one of us; and we await His future return to us at the End of Time.
During Advent, we ask the same question – is it worth the wait – but with a very different answer. It is in fact worth the wait because instead of a frustrating waiting with undefined benefit, our Scripture today call us to wait in an effective and purposeful way. They give us something to do in our waiting, we are to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The readings put before us some examples of waiting purposefully. We have of course, Isaiah and John the Baptist who both offer us a waiting that involves reform of life, they call us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by living a life of repentance. They call us to reflect on our own lives as ask “are we ready for Jesus return?” But, there is another Advent example that I find even more helpful in understanding how we are to wait – the example of Mary.
The simple point is that being pregnant is not easy and can even be quite difficult, but it is worth the wait. And it is I think the most helpful image for our time of Advent waiting and preparing. We, too, all of us, are in a sense pregnant and waiting – waiting to give birth once again to Jesus in our lives. And so, God calls us all to make real change in our lives; to acknowledge His Son and “make straight our paths.”
As God calls each of us to reform our lives, depending on what we need to change, this might be for us a difficult pregnancy. But, if we can wait and prepare, it will bring forth new and wonderful life – but just like any pregnancy, it takes time, it takes patience, it takes the will to be transformed into the image that God calls us to.
Let me just suggest a few things that can mark the way we wait for the Lord this Advent. First, pray. Advent is the perfect time of year to jumpstart our prayer life. So many times God is trying to give us guidance and light, but because we don't spend time in prayer, we haven't learned to recognize His voice, so we miss out. Pope Emeritus Benedict said a few years ago, “Do you leave space to hear God's whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Let His word shape your journey."
The second things we can do is make good use of the Sacraments. Sometimes in personal prayer we are unsure of God's presence, but in the sacraments hrist guarantees that He is truly present. During Advent we can spend time with Christ in the Eucharist, maybe going to daily Mass to receive Holy Communion more frequently, learning to listen and letting Him teach us to follow Him. During Advent, a trip to confession is the most direct way to clear all the debris that comes from life's storms off the roads of our souls. As I said last week, let’s not carry our sins all the way to Christmas Day.
And the third things we can do is reach out to others, to those who don't know Christ, or those who are suffering. As we reach out to them, we too come closer to Christ.
Jesus is eagerly looking forward to Christmas, because He wants to make a fresh entrance into the Jerusalem of our souls, and fill us with His comfort.
Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, for the patience and the courage to allow God to create new life in us – as individuals, as a parish community, as a Church. Let us use this time of Advent to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
May the Lord give you peace.