Augustine M. Esposito, O.S.A.
Saint Thomas Monastery
Is 40: 1-5, 9-11
Ps 85: 9-10-11-12, 13-14
2 Pt 3: 8-14
Mk 1: 1-8
Do you personally like change? If asked, many people would probably answer “no” or “it all depends on what was changing.” That’s fair enough of an answer. But in all honesty we must admit that it is often the case that people, for whatever reason, generally do not like change. It often meets with mild to strong opposition, pointed criticism or at times even with bitter resentment. At the same time some people contend that change is a good thing; they believe that it’s necessary.
Just one week ago the Church initiated some significant liturgical changes but not merely for the sake of change. The changes were meant to introduce the beginning of a new liturgical year. We have already entered into the second week of the holy season of Advent. This four week season is a time of watching, waiting and joyful expectation as we prepare to once again celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah. This Messiah brings to the entire world - “comfort”, he speaks “tenderly” as Isaiah recalls in the first reading. This “savior” and “redeemer” as we now know, would at last bring salvation by the forgiveness of our sins! So it is not terribly surprising that some changes would take place during this liturgical season, when the Universal Church prepares to celebrate a pinnacle moment in the history of salvation. This preparation requires change on more than just one level in order for it to be meaningful.
At the beginning of each Advent season, the color green of ordinary time which symbolizes hope, “changes” to the color purple, a color which speaks to us of the importance of waiting in prayer and making sacrifices to help us prepare for the birth of Christ. Also, in the sanctuary of our churches as well as in many homes, the Advent Wreath is placed in a prominent spot for all to see. The four candles, three purple and one pink, challenge us to remember the importance of these weeks of prayer that lead us to Christmas day. As the candles burn we are reminded of how that Light which is Christ remains with us and that the light of hope that He brings us enlightens the path of our journey towards Him. We also call to mind that this light will never be extinguished. Advent sets ablaze that hope for salvation that came to earth at the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the long awaited Prince of Peace!
We experience an additional change in the words of the hymns and songs we sing during Advent. The change in music capture a distinct “musical mood”, if you will, characterized by longing and yearning for the Word made flesh.
These changes are so enriching and inspiring as well. However, they are all external. They are changes that we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears and touch with our hands. However, what the readings of the second Sunday of Advent really call us to is change within, - radical change that will transform us into heralds of Christ. These changes are to take place deep within us so that we become truly “transformed” within through the saving grace of Christ, the Son of God, and the promised messiah. The kind of change that we must strive for each and every day during the Advent season is that type of interior renewal that will actually “configure” us to Christ more perfectly, interiorly, deep within our very being. Change within makes us authentic heralds of Christ and enables us to make Christ’s presence known and felt by all we meet. Through the changes within us we can make Christ’s message easy to hear and touch and see in a powerful way for all of our brothers and sisters. With renewed interior strength we can change hatred to love, violence to peace and selfishness to generosity. It becomes easier to embrace the forgiving love of Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation as well as growing in the ability to forgive others. Through our efforts to change within we see more clearly how the Church is our source of truth, our vessel of safety and, in fact, our mother. All of the externals of the Advent season will eventually be packed up and put away to be used again next year. Externals can only “decorate” the outside for a limited period of time. The interior changes we make in our personal lives will remain and enrich our lives and those of others around us indefinitely. Thus, each year the new Advent season will bring repeated hope for more light, more promise, more peace - and most importantly more of Christ’s peaceful reign in our world. Interior transformation and configuration to Christ within us will lead us to triumph in the battle against the distortion of truths, virtues and values with which we are so often plagued through relativism, selfishness and an ego-centric approach to life in our world that has led to a culture of death.
In today’s gospel we find the unique example of that radically transformed heart and the totally configured soul to Christ Jesus, namely, John the Baptist. He is indeed the role model for all those who call themselves Christian. We, like John are also called to go forth and “announce” the coming of Christ. Like John we too are called to “proclaim” the Good News by our lives; to encourage our brothers and sisters to “prepare the way of the Lord!” The changes within the heart of John the Baptist enabled him to decrease while Christ within him increased. John, totally transformed and configured to Christ interiorly, had become the herald of the only Son of God. Not just a messenger but a herald of the Good News of Salvation! John the Baptist left us an extraordinary pattern for that type of change within that sketches the face of Christ in us and in our actions for all to see as we “cry out” as well “prepare the way of the Lord.” John’s interior transformation helped him believe that he was not even worthy to untie the sandal straps of the One who is to come, the “Lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world! John’s renewed heart prompted him to cry out that this Lamb of God would baptize with the Holy Spirit while John could only baptize with water. There are great blessings in striving to imitate the interior life of John the Baptist. There is so much to be gained by imitating the example John and the changes within that enabled him to make such a difference outwardly for those who awaited the Savior. John ultimately “decreased” so completely that he would shed his blood for love of Christ.
The person of John the Baptist “cries out” for us to “prepare” for the birth of Christ. He appeals for change - change within! Whatever that might mean for each and every one of us, we must strive to make those changes in our personal lives that will make us more pleasing to our loving God and Father. John the Baptist is a paradigm of the transforming grace of God.
So, one full week of Advent has already passed. One more candle of the Advent Wreath has been lit. Through today’s Scripture readings hopefully more light from the gospel has been shed upon us and we are more aware of the need for change within. Hopefully, the outward changes of the Advent season will continually remind us of how we are called during this holy season to “change” within us those aspects of our lives that do not “announce” or “proclaim” Christ in our world. Hopefully we will find many opportunities to be renewed within in the common and ordinary duties of our state in life whatever that might be.
Just as it would be a tragedy to allow the beauty of the change of seasons to pass us by because of distraction or indifference, it would be even more tragic to allow the season of Advent pass us by this year without striving to “change” within so as to become more completely configured to Him who loved us to much as to die for us so we could live eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven. We must pray that every external sign of Advent will allow us to pause and ask ourselves the question: what changes must I make within me during this holy season that will make me a herald of Christ in the world today?
May Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, intercede for us as we strive for that total transformation within her that yielded to that response of hers to the will of God which echoes to this very day: “I am the maidservant of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.”