Sunday, December 6, 2009

Prepare ye the way of the Lord (2009-12-06, Advent)

This is my homily for December 6, 2009, Second Sunday of Advent. Feel free to respond with comments. View the Mass readings at:

Prepare. Get ready.

This time of the semester, all we are doing is preparing, getting ready academically. Perhaps you did not expect a classroom message to be echoed in the chapel.

Getting ready, is it not relatively easy to focus on the externals, to focus on the preparations which we can see, the things around which we can put wrapping paper or lights?

And, we are very accustomed to the external things which we prepare:
• preparing a meal (Thanksgiving)
• preparing our cars, suitcases, etc. (to go on a trip)
• preparing to swing or throw or kick. Athletes spend a lot of time preparing. Championship winners play better because they prepare better.
• Musicians spend a lot of time preparing, practicing their swing, their touch, and their breath as well.

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In the Gospel today, we read in a relatively modern reflection of the ancient words:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

However, we also read in another reflection of these ancient words: “Prepare ye, the way of the Lord”;

As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. (Luke 3:4, Douay-Rheims Bible)

This “Prepare ye” means you are called to prepare; I am called to prepare.

And, this is the preparation which is most challenging.

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Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

What we prepare is not just “way”, a “road” outside of ourselves. Rather, we prepare ourselves.

I think the musician or athlete who is preparing to sing – or to swing - would also acknowledge that preparation involves something invisible.

The invisible things to prepare are my heart and my mind. This is difficult. Yet, this is Advent. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

For example: Is it not relatively easy to find a tree that will be high enough to place the star but not too high for the ceiling?

It is a more difficult endeavor to acknowledge the places in our lives where we could reach a little higher, while also ensuring our reach “for the star” or “for the stars” is not too full of arrogance or pride.

Aren’t we sometimes more comfortable preparing something else, preparing someone else, rather than preparing ourselves. Don’t we sometimes give advice to other people that we ourselves ignore?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

What does preparation involve?

John the Baptist has some specific instructions which would require significant private and/or government sector initiative.

Engineering on a grand scale is what John the Baptist speaks of. “Filling in the valleys”; “making low the mountains.”

Do we have enough money for this?

And, if we were to find the money to re-engineer the waterways and landscapes, would this be the right objective?

Are we focusing on something purely external?

We build six-lane highways with EZ Pass in this country. But, our spiritual path / spiritual highway, is not pointed NORTH-SOUTH-EAST-or-WEST, but rather the direction is to go from the outside to the inside with the help of God’s grace.

Unwrap the paper, the bubble wrap …the layers that surround you. I am called to do the same thing. We come to Mass so that we will prepare ourselves – to prepare ye the way of the Lord – to prepare our hearts and minds.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Inside of us there are mountains and valleys too.

And, these are what need to be leveled to prepare the way.

There are, at times valleys of regret, valleys of sadness. In Psalm 23, we read the “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want … and if I should walk in the valley of darkness – the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.”
We also walk, at times, in the valley of darkness. We do this when we experience a significant loss in our lives, the death of a beloved person, illness, instability.

The promise of Psalm 23 is that the Lord meets us in the valley leading us to springs of water.

Recall that John the Baptist is in the desert where water is scarce and crucial. We need to imitate him, drinking in the water of God’s goodness to survive.

There are also valleys of selfishness that can tempt me to seek my own pleasure, my own gratification over and against the good of another.

Jesus comes with his example of self-sacrifice inviting us out of the valley. And, we pray for his help to leave the valley of darkness. We can walk on more level ground. We do this by seeking opportunities each day – maybe at the kitchen table, at our desk, in the way we answer the phone -- or even in our efforts to be kind during the chaos of Christmas. All of this invites us out of the valley of darkness.

It invites us to follow the Savior, to prepare the way

* * * * * * * * * * * *

John the Baptist also says the mountains will be laid low. Advent invites us to make the mountains low.

Inside of us, there are mountains of pride, mountains of jealousy.

Sometimes, these mountains can be so high, so towering, that we cannot see beyond them. We may, for example, be so jealous of someone else or so hurt by someone’s actions that we live in the shadow of a mountain.

We need God’s help to face that mountain.

Consider what happens early in Jesus’s ministry when he goes out into the desert. He goes out not to meet John the Baptist, but rather the devil.

First, Jesus is taken up to the parapet of the Temple. Then, Jesus is taken up to a very high mountain. The devil offers him all the kingdoms of the world. The devil asks Jesus only to bow down to him.

We know that Jesus turns down this enticing offer. You know, all the kingdoms of the world, no money down, zero percent financing. Just enter your PIN or sign on the touch screen.

In this encounter between Jesus, the holy one of God and the evil spirit, we see the choice to follow the good even when we up on the mountain, exalted, perhaps full of ourselves.

The mountain that needs to be made low is not in the Colorado Rockies or Chilean Andes. The valley that needs to be filled in is not the Grand Canyon.

We need God’s help rather to prepare … to prepare ye the way of the Lord as we beg his help with the valleys and mountains within ourselves.

Some of these valleys and mountains might not be as treacherous as we think . We need God’s help to navigate, to find our way, and to prepare ye the way, both you and me.


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