5 December 2010
There is an ancient story about three devils who were arguing about the best way of destroying the souls of good people in the world. The first demon said: ‘Let’s tell all the Christians that the bible is a fable, not true’. ’No, that will not do’, the second demon said: ’Let me go and I will tell them that there is no after life, no heaven, and no hell’. The third demon said: ’There is one better way. Tell the Christians that the bible is inspired, it is true and that there is heaven and hell. Yes, but I will tell them that there is NO HURRY; there is always tomorrow’. And the devils agreed to send him. Such is Satan’s strategy; there is no hurry, there is always tomorrow, we have plenty of time.
In the gospel today John the Baptist appears preaching in the desert of Judea and says ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand’. He is saying that the kingdom of God or equally ‘the reign of God’ is at hand because Jesus has appeared and he calls upon his listeners to pay attention to him and respond now. .None of us has any guarantee how long we will live. One of our SMA priests was killed by armed robbers a few days ago in Kenya. I am sure when he woke up that morning he never knew what would happen. Being a good priest no doubt he was prepared to meet his God.
John the Baptist and Jesus both began their ministry with the call to repent. In a class of 10 year olds the teacher asked the children what the word they understood by the word ‘repent’. A little boy answered saying it meant being sorry for one’s sins. Immediately a little girl said it was more than that. It meant being sorry enough for your sins to quit or give up committing them.
Contrary to the devil’s strategy there is a note of urgency in today’s gospel. John says ‘even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire’. He is not saying this just to scare us but that that if what we are doing in our lives is contrary to God’s will, we will not have the deep happiness and peace God wants for us now.
So in contemporary language John the Baptist is saying to us: ‘If you are thinking of making a Christmas confession, do it now. If you are planning to be reconciled with someone now is the time. If you are considering doing good to others do it now. Don’t delay’.
Some years ago in a newspaper a reporter wrote about an unusual programme. It dealt with the removal of unwanted tattoos from the bodies of young people. Because of the remarkable response, a television company produced a film called “Untatoo you”. The films tells about the dangers of tattooing and how difficult and painful it was to remove tattoos from arms and faces.
The story illustrates an important point. All of us have done things in our lives that we now regret and would like to erase. Happily, we Catholics are blessed because Jesus gave us a way of erasing our sins. This we can do in the Sacrament of Confession. Why not avail of this free gift this Christmas as a very good preparation for Advent and celebrating the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ?
Before he died, George Harrison (of Beatles Popgroup fame), who did not claim to be a Christian, said “Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot be delayed. And love one another”. Not a bad summary of the Christian message!
Christmas is no accident on the part of God who knew quite well what he was doing in sending us Jesus. But Jesus cannot come into our hearts if we don’t welcome him. We won’t be able to do this if we our hearts are full up of all that does not lead to true happiness. That is why John’s call in today’s gospel to repent is so important. It implies a change of attitude since without conversion it is impossible to welcome Christ. John reminds us that the change he is asking of us is not something formal; something done by complying with external rituals. John demands that ‘we bear fruit worthy of repentance’. Spelling this out means welcoming, forgiving and sharing with our neighbours in whatever way possible. There is no middle path; there is either acceptance or rejection of Christ’s attitudes and behaviour. Which will we choose? Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew: ‘’Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven’. Good intentions are not enough. Good deeds are what Jesus expects. Let us not put off until it is too late to do them.
The word ‘repent’ is best understood as a new way of looking at life. Ultimately it means looking at life and people through the eyes of Jesus. It means treating people as Jesus did with kindness, forgiveness, compassion. It means doing whatever we can to make the lot of others better especially by encouraging them, affirming them, welcoming them etc.
“Come, Lord Jesus. Help us with your Holy Spirit to repent and believe the Good News today. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein SMA