Prepare the Way

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

Earlier this week, I was putting up some Christmas decorations at the rectory and I had a memory come to mind from when I was a kid. Every year my mother would setup our Nativity scene on December 8th but she would always leave baby Jesus in the box until Christmas Eve. I was always struck by the image of the empty manger. As I thought more about that this week, I wondered if the Lord was trying to convey some message, if there was some connection between the empty manger and the faith journey that most of us experience during this holy season.

Each Advent, we are being called to begin preparing a space within our hearts to welcome anew the presence of the Christ-child, to welcome the very Savior of the world. And so, the image of that empty manger is an important one for us because it makes us realize that the Nativity of Christ is drawing ever closer. It’s a reminder to continue to put in the effort to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s return. It’s a call to action, a call to contemplation.

Every one of our readings today for Mass is bringing attention to this need to prepare the way for the Lord, to make straight His paths and to make a highway for God. These passages of scripture are inviting us to consider if we have truly done all that we can to prepare our hearts for Christ. Have we taken this call to prepare the way for the Lord seriously? But our readings also make us reflect on what hinders those preparations.

In our First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah is trying to instill a sense of hope in the people of Israel. The Prophet had in view the restoration of the Chosen People of God from the Babylonian exile. He was the voice crying out in the wilderness, he was the bearer of good tidings who was attempting to get the Israelites to recognize that the Lord was about to restore them to their former glory. The Lord tells Isaiah to encourage Israel that, after all their struggle and difficulty, not only are they getting closer to the Lord, but that He is coming closer to them to help them along the way. The people are told that they have paid the price for their sins and are ready to be reconciled with the Lord. They are challenged to make a beeline for God, to build a direct path to him.[1] Because either way, whether they accept it not, the Lord is coming! The Lord is coming! And that is the same message that God has for us. He is coming soon, so we best be prepared for when He makes that return. 

This is also the challenge that we hear from John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. We hear that John is preaching in the desert. He might appear like a madman wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts, but, despite that, the message he was preaching was resonating with others. He was calling the people of Jerusalem who had come out to see him and hear his preaching to repentance from their sins because one mightier than he was coming.

The Messiah was soon to make his appearance. Because of that everyone needed to prepare for the dawning of a new Kingdom. John was calling the people to come out into the desert, acknowledge their sins, and to be washed clean from the filth of that sin through baptism. All of these were actions meant to prepare hearts for the coming of Christ. It was a challenge to the people of his day to rid their hearts of the junk, creating a space within for the Savior. It was a challenge to conversion.

The important message of John’s preaching was that if the people of Jerusalem wanted to truly make the Lord’s path straight, they would have to embrace an attitude of repentance and a desire for forgiveness. Without those two things, conversion would not be possible. The same goes for us. If we don’t possess that attitude for repentance and that desire for forgiveness, there is no way that we will be prepared for the coming of Christ. Thankfully though, the Church has given us this season to do just that. Advent is our moment for adopting the right attitude. Are we making the most of it and putting in the real effort to truly be prepared for the coming of Christ at Christmas? Have our hearts been transformed into a manger that is prepared to welcome Him?

True repentance means recognizing our sinfulness and inviting the Lord ever more deeply into those areas of our hearts where we need Him the most. But that’s not something that we can do on our own. Molding our hearts and shaping them into the manger that is ready to welcome Christ is only something that God can do within us. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t participate in that work in some way. Every single day, the Holy Spirit is prompting us to respond to Him in such a way that brings us into deeper relationship with the Father. The Spirit is constantly calling us to conversion so that we can prepare for the coming of Jesus. What are some ways that we can respond to that invitation?

  • We can start by praying from the heart. Spending time each day entering into dialogue with the Father, sharing with Him our daily lives.
  • We can learn more about Jesus by committing to reading Scripture for something as easy as 10 minutes a day. If that’s not something you’re used to doing, start by reading the scriptures for Daily Mass.
  • We can begin to get a better understanding of how the Lord works in our lives by doing a daily examen, where we review our day with the Lord. Acknowledge the times where we saw him and ask for his forgiveness where we failed.
  • We can take advantage of the opportunity to clean out the junk of our hearts and go to confession – whether that be on Saturday afternoons, at our ADORE nights, calling the office to make an appointment with one of the priests, or by coming to one of our Advent Penance Services on December 15th.
  • We can also commit to signing up for an hour each week to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament present in the tabernacle.

Any of these practical, tangible things that we can incorporate into our daily schedules to make the most of Advent. Can we do just one from now until Christmas?

Jesus wants to be born in us in a fresh and new way this Christmas. All he desires is a space in our hearts – whatever extra space we can give him. As we continue this season of Advent, will we allow the Lord to shape our hearts into a manger? When the Lord comes at Christmas, will he find a space within us to make His dwelling? What are we doing to prepare the way for the Lord?

[1] “Make Straight the Way for the Lord,” ePriest, Second Sunday of Advent (B).

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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