“Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout causing I’m telling you why; Santa Claus is coming to town.” This Christmas songs begins very differently from most songs that are peaceful and joy-filled. Silent Night is the classic most of us refer to when we think of Christmas songs. “Oh, you better watch out,” is a very different image of Christmas compared to “O holy night.”
So, why would I begin my homily today with the opening lines of “Santa Claus is coming to town”? Well, let’s look at the opening line of the Gospel: “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’!” See the connection? Santa calls us to pay attention to how we are living; John calls us to change our lives and be ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ So, even though the red and white attire of Santa is quite different from the camel hair robe of John, they are both calling us to pay attention and be ready for the coming of someone. For John the Baptist, it was Jesus’coming. I’ll take Jesus over Santa any day!
John the Baptist was a fierce preacher who touched people’s hearts. Standing on the bank of the Jordan River, 25 miles east of Jerusalem, he attracted much attention from the people of Judea, including the religious upper class of Pharisees and Sadducees! Many people took John’s words to heart and sought the forgiveness of God. The experience a metanoia…a change of heart!
Has there been a time in your life when you experienced a change of heart? Maybe you woke up one day and said, “What am I doing? I must change.” This could be a person in their 20s who has been heavy into the party scene, until they wake up in a house, not knowing where they are or how they got there. It is a sudden awareness that leads to a change of heart and hopefully, a change of direction.
Have you ever had a major change of heart? Maybe it followed a particular sermon; a word from a child that cut us to the core. Or, it might have been an experience with a person from the Black Community, a person from Mexico or from the Mid-East, a person who is Muslim and in that experience I suddenly realized just how much my anger, prejudice and fear have dominated my attitudes. Have we had such an experience? Do I need such an experience?
John the Baptist’s preaching brought about a change of heart, a conversion. So, Advent is a call to change our hearts according to the kingdom of heaven.
In the Gospel John the Baptist’s words were strong with the people in general, but with the religious leaders his words were actually harsh and piercing…’Brood of vipers’ is how he refers to the Pharisees and Sadducees. It seems that John questions the religious leaders’ sincerity in coming to hear him and be baptized. Do they really want to change, or are they coming to John to impress others? John says, ”Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” In other words, show some proof that you want to change.
This reminds me of the earliest days of the church when the Sacrament of Confession was being formulated. During the earliest days, the penance given by the bishop had to be completed BEFORE the forgivenness occurred!! The bishop might call someone to fast for 3 months as their penance. After the penance is completed they would return to receive the welcomed reunion into the community and relationship with Christ!! Three months of fasting!! The bishop wanted to see evidence of sincerity! John wanted to see evidence of sincerity from the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The reaction from the Pharisees and Sadducees was one of defensiveness! “Hey, don’t talk to us that way!! We are children of Abraham, we are righteous in the Law.” We all have this defensiveness inside of us, don’t we?! And the slightest confrontation can bring it out! Of course, John moves passed their protest that they are children of Abraham, saying, “God can make children of Abraham from these stones.” In other words, we must not rely upon some false sense of security, but come to God with an openness of heart and a true desire to follow God’s Kingdom.
So, how is God calling me, at this point in my life to a conversion of heart? How am I being challenged to hear the words of John the Baptist that calls us to repentance and a new beginning…a beginning that is filled with new life, new vision, a new hope?
Advent is always a season of great hope and this hope lies in our trust in the Coming of the Lord. Our wonderful reading from Isaiah the prophet tells of this great hope when God would send the messiah who would be filled with wisdom and understanding, with counsel and strength, in knowledge and fear of the Lord. And this wise and good leader will judge the poor with justice and assist the afflicted. Then Isaiah paints this picture of tremendous harmony between natural enemies:
--the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb (no fear, only trust)
--the calf and the lion will browse together
--the baby shall play by the cobra’s den (gives me chills to think of this!!).
Isaiah calls us to see that in the day of the Lord, enemies will become friends and harmony will exist among all. How much we need to hear these words today when we have such severe division in our world, in our country.
You and I are free to choose the attitude with which we confront life. We can believe that there is no hope for our world and become cynical and promote of division and anger, or we can believe the Good News of Christmas that God is alive and well and at work in our world bringing in a kingdom of love and justice and freedom. We can face the future with fear and foreboding, or we can trust in the God who has sustained us through the years and has promised us that He will never forget us nor forsake us regardless of our situation. We can choose to live in continued darkness, or we can step out into the light of hope and triumph and eternal victory. We can live for ourselves alone, or we can make the world a better place to live for all persons everywhere.
Doesn’t the Good News of Advent and Christmas change your attitude about life? Can you hear the call to change our hearts for the better. Doesn’t it make you anticipate that sometime--somewhere--somehow--something good, not evil, is out there waiting to happen in your life? That is the kind of change that takes place when the Christ Child is born anew in our hearts.