Okay, so we live in this area of the country where there are just two seasons, right? The season of winter, and the season of road construction. And even winter doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent to road construction: it seems like improving our roads is so constantly ongoing that we almost never get to enjoy them improved before they’re improving them all again. My dad says there are two groups who work on the roads, the tearer-uppers and the fixer-uppers. He estimates that there are up to ten times as many tearer-uppers as there are fixer-uppers. I think that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but only a little one.
We all know that it is important to have the roads fixed up and made safer. But we all know how frustrating it can be to sit in traffic tied up for miles because of construction. We have this tendency to want to speed past all of it, and that’s just not safe. We also wonder if this construction will ever be done, since we have to travel the same roads every day of our lives.
The spiritual life has often been likened to a road, and today’s Liturgy of the Word does that quite well. In the first reading, the prophet Baruch says that “God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, so that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.” John the Baptist echoes this sentiment as he begins his preaching and ministry in today’s Gospel, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, preparing the way of the Lord with straight paths and smooth travel. St. Paul says to the Philippians that no matter how long it may seem to get there, they shouldn’t worry because God will clearly bring the good work in them to fulfillment, so that they can rejoice with the Psalmist that “the Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.”
My question is this: if IDOT were in charge of filling in the valleys, leveling the mountains, straightening the winding roads and smoothing over the rough ways, do you think those things would ever be completed so that we could reach Jerusalem in time for Christmas?!
But seriously, here is the important piece to take away from today’s Liturgy of the Word: we all have rough spots, crooked ways and assorted obstacles on our spiritual paths. Our intentions to be friends with God may be good, but often we have lost our way or been stuck in a kind of spiritual traffic-jam. Our goal is communion with our friend, Jesus Christ. Our best intentions are to get there. Our frustration is that often we are derailed and never seem to reach the goal. But the promise is that God will indeed bring that good work to fulfillment, and we will then rejoice in our salvation with all God’s holy ones.
The good news in today’s Liturgy of the Word is that God does indeed promise to forgive us. Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. And all flesh – every one of us, brothers and sisters – we will all see the salvation of God. That’s a promise. God will forgive us all of our sins.
That’s what Advent is about. The coming of Christ in our world isn’t just something that happened two thousand years ago. Advent means that Christ is coming into our world today, and every day, if we would just open our hearts and smooth out a place for him. God becomes incarnate in our world every time someone turns back to him and repents of their sin. God’s love comes to birth every time we accept the gift of forgiveness and the unfathomable grace of the Eucharist. Advent means that Chris is Emmanuel, God-with-us NOW. Advent means that the salvation and forgiveness that God promises us is available to us NOW.
I’ve been teaching our teens, the people at daily Mass, and the children in our school about an ancient prayer of the early Church. In the years just after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, the early Christians would pray in their language, Maranatha or “Come, Lord Jesus.” So I’ve been saying that we should all pray that prayer every day during Advent. When we get up in the morning, and just before bed at night, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you need help during the day or just need to remind yourself of God’s promises, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” The early Christians prayed this way because they expected Jesus to return soon. We do too. Even if he does not return in glory during our lifetimes, we still expect him to return soon and often in our lives and in our world to brighten this place of darkness and sin and to straighten out the rough ways in our lives.
So whenever you see me, say “Come, Lord Jesus” and I’ll say “Amen.” If I say to you, “Come, Lord Jesus,” you say “Amen.” Let us keep the expectation of the Lord and the hope of his promise of forgiveness alive in our hearts:
Come, Lord Jesus and change our hearts to be more loving and open to others.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to pray; help us to grow in our spiritual lives.
Come, Lord Jesus and dispel our doubts; help us always to hope in your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal those who are sick and comfort all the dying.
Come, Lord Jesus and bring those who wander back to your Church.
Come, Lord Jesus and turn us away from our addictions.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to be patient with ourselves and others.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to eliminate injustice and apathy.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to welcome the stranger.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us an unfailing and zealous respect for your gift of life.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to be generous; teach us all to practice stewardship of all of our resources.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to work at everything we do as though we were working for you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and bind up our brokenness, heal our woundedness, comfort us in affliction, afflict us in our comfort, help us to repent and to follow you without distraction or hesitation, give us the grace to pick up our crosses and be your disciples.
The truth is, brothers and sisters in Christ, we come to this holy place to this sacred Liturgy, each of us at different places in the spiritual road. Our goal – all of us – is to advance on that road, tackling the obstacles that face us, and defeating our sin by the power of God’s forgiveness and mercy. There may only be one unforgivable sin: the sin of not needing a Savior. When we thing we’re okay and that there is nothing wrong with our lives or our relationships, then we’re lost. It’s not that God doesn’t want to forgive us this sin, it’s more that we refuse to have it forgiven. If Advent teaches us anything, it’s got to be that we all need that baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached, that we all need to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, making straight the paths for his return to us.
This week, we have the opportunity to celebrate this promise of forgiveness in our lives. We will have a penance service on Tuesday at 7:00pm. There will be some readings and prayer, and then an opportunity for each of us to approach one of several priests to take advantage of the great promise of God’s forgiveness. Maybe you’re hearing this and you know you need to go, but you haven’t been to the sacrament in what seems like a hundred years. If you let that stand in your way, I’d be heartbroken. I don’t care if you’ve forgotten how to go to confession, come to one of us and tell us that and we’ll help you. Nothing – absolutely nothing – should stand in the way of you receiving God’s forgiveness. If you can’t come on Tuesday, and I sure hope you can, then come on Saturday at 4:00 to go to individual confession. On Saturday the 23rd, both Fr. Ted and I will be here from 3:00 on to hear confessions and will be there as long as it takes to hear everyone. We want to make sure that you can receive and celebrate what God promises us today. His forgiveness is better than anything we could possibly hope for. Don’t miss receiving it.
The new Act of Contrition concludes by saying “Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.” Today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that that is just what God promises to do, if we will but let him in.
Come, Lord Jesus!