When I was a teenager, some of us would climb up onto the roof of our house on the fourth of July so that we could see the fireworks. It was by far the best seat in the house. We could usually see the fireworks not only in our own town but in some others nearby as well. Time has passed and the trees are taller and I am older and less okay with heights, so we don’t do that any more, but it was a beautiful view back then. You’ve experienced that if you’ve ever been hiking somewhere beautiful and hilly or mountainous, and you get to the highest point along the way and take in a breathtaking view. What wonderful things we can see when we’re up on the heights.
That’s the challenge I take from today’s readings. Isaiah urges Jerusalem to go up onto a high mountain. From there they can see the Lord coming in power. Us too, I think, if we’re open to going there. I think the climbing is less literal than it was, perhaps, for them, but it is climbing all the same. It means ascending in our spiritual lives, going up higher in our living of the Gospel and call to discipleship.
The prophet Isaiah makes the case in our first reading:
Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD…
Isaiah was speaking to a people in exile. They had sinned, had not respected God’s commandments, they even rejected the prophet’s call to get their acts together, and now they’re paying the price. After an initial message of comfort early on in today’s first reading, Isaiah now turns and gives them the way back. Do they want to have rest from their enemies? Well then, climb up high, see your God coming in power, and cry out at the top of your voice the message you should have been proclaiming all along.
That is the charge we are all receiving in these Advent days. The Israelites aren’t the only ones who need to get their acts together. We do too. We can look in the papers for signs of communal sin: world financial markets coming at least close to the brink of failure, corporate greed that makes the news time and time again, the effects of poverty run rampant resulting in increased crime. But we almost don’t have to go that far to find our discipleship lacking. We can look at our personal sin: the times we have neglected prayer or have been judgmental of others. The times we have chosen not to help others when we could have, and so much more. It is high time we climbed up onto that high mountain and started to live the life the Gospel calls us to live.
Thankfully, Advent gives us the time to look at that in our lives. That does mean, though, that among all our gift-buying and party-going, we have to make time for our God who gives us the reason for celebrating the season in the first place. Maybe this Advent can see us creating even five minutes more time for prayer, reflecting on the scripture readings for the day, or the meditation in the blue books we have available. Advent should see us repenting of our sins, going to confession even if we haven’t been in hears, and turning our hearts back to God.
I want to be absolutely clear here. This Advent, if you haven’t already been to confession, you should go. We have many times available for you to do that. Every Saturday, we are here from 4:00 to 4:45. We have an Advent Parish Penance Service scheduled for Thursday, December 15 at 7:00. There will be several priests here to hear your confession. You can always also make an appointment with me or Father Steve. We will also be publishing a list of local parishes’ schedules in case ours doesn’t work for you.
Perhaps the more pressing issue is what happens if you haven’t been to confession in a long time? What do you do if you don’t know what to do? The answer is just go: tell the priest you haven’t been to confession in a long time, and that you need help. It is our job to help you make a good confession, and we can help you do that. For me, it is always a great joy to help someone come back to the sacraments.
As we ascend that high mountain by confessing our sins and revitalizing our prayer life, we should also reach out in service to others. Adopting a needy family for Christmas, or collecting food for the food pantry, or giving to Toys for Tots. These and so many other opportunities are there for us this time of year to give of ourselves and help others in their time of need. Giving of ourselves helps us to see others as God does, and gives us a heart that is like the heart of God.
Isaiah says that we should climb that high mountain and announce the good news, the Gospel, crying out at the top of our voice. It’s not like we need to stand on a soapbox on a street corner to do that. We don’t even have to travel to a mountainous region. All we have to do is to live the Gospel with integrity, because then everyone will see that. Who knows if our small acts of faith, prayer and service won’t lead someone else down the right path in their own lives?
Today, we celebrate the baptism of NNNNN. This is an occasion of joy for HIS/HER family, but also for us as a parish. Every time someone is baptized into the faith, our Church is one person stronger. We need to be supportive of HIS/HER parents and godparents by being a parish that lives the faith and helps them to do the same. Children need to be part of a community that takes its own baptismal call seriously, so that they can learn to do that too. It is our responsibility as people of faith to help our children climb up onto that high mountain that Isaiah talks about, so that, knowing the Lord and having a relationship with him, they can one day enter with all of us into eternal life.