Gratification and the Christmas Tree, Repentance and the Tree of the Cross.
During these first days and weeks of this time called Advent, the prayers and readings at Mass are not yet turned head-on at making ready for Christmas that marks the first advent or arrival of Christ long ago.
Rather, for now the prayers and readings bear in mind making ready for the final advent, the Second Coming of Christ.
Today’s second reading holds that the day of the Lord will come, and the heavens will pass away while all the earth’s elements will be dissolved.
But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth.
It sounds violent but nonetheless draws us.
Today’s first reading is tenderly mindful that we live in need of comfort and of an end to wearisome service.
God gives his word that he will bring reward and recompense, as one who feeds us, gathers us, carrying us in his bosom, and leading us with care.
That much of God’s word today beckons like a soothing from pillow, blanket and lullaby.
How do we get there?
Today’s second reading speaks of our waiting for and HASTENING the coming of the day of God.
HASTENING it, making it arrive faster for us— how do we do that?
Even God wants it quickly.
In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! [Reading 1]
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise… but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to REPENTANCE. [Reading 2]
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist called for baptism, for dipping or sinking into repentance.
Repentance is how to wait for and hasten our being able to meet with the everlasting bliss that God in Christ holds out to us.
In the Gospels, it was not only John the Baptist who called for repentance.
When Christ himself first began to preach, his message was: Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
After Christ had gathered himself a crowd of followers, the first time he sent dozens of them out to preach in his name across the countryside, he told them to preach repentance.
On the day he ascended into the unseen glory of heaven, the last thing he said to his followers was also the only thing he ever told them to preach: repentance in his name all over the world.
From the beginning through to the end, the message of Christ on earth was repentance, and he wants it to be the same in the preaching and lives of his followers.
However, the word repentance calls up feelings at odds with hearing God tenderly promise comfort, tenderly promise to feed, gather, carry and lead us with care.
The word repentance does not feel soothing like pillow, blanket and lullaby.
Instead, the word repentance calls up the very upheaval that God’s word today calls for: tearing down hills and mountains, heaving their rubble to fill up canyons and valleys so as to flatten out all the land.
How can God’s word in the first reading Speak tenderly that our service is at an end, but then call for a lot of earthmoving and roadwork out in the badlands?
In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Marking those words means repentance will be a burning grind for us, and— as Christ upholds— it will also be our each shouldering a death penalty’s cross in his footsteps or else we cannot be his disciples.
Repentance is off-putting, and ever the more so now with our own culture of increasingly technology-enabled and technology-intensified instant convenience and instant gratification .
For children, Christmas trees promise gratification: that gratification will show up below their branches on Christmas morning.
However, for followers of Christ, Christmas trees are signs of celebrating and embracing the first coming of Christ.
And Christ called for our REPENTANCE on a road that could turn even Christmas trees into beams for our own CRUCIFIXIONS.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know we are AFRAID of repentance.
Peter the first pope and his fellow apostles, the first bishops and priests, all ran away from repentance and from Christ when the time came for Christ to take up and go up onto the tree of the cross.
The pagan Roman empire feared that form of repentance called Christianity, and for nearly three hundred years Rome tried to stamp it out.
The English word repentance has behind it the twists and turns of the long history of several languages— modern English, Middle English, Old French, Early Church Latin, Biblical Greek.
Since the Gospel was first written in an old form of Greek, we need to know that where English today says repentance, the Gospel’s old Greek word means CHANGE OF MIND.
Repentance is a road following Christ onto a cross for the sake of OUR advent, our arrival, at the resurrection of everlasting body-and-soul oneness with God in his boundless joy— the real, true ending of all wearisome service.
But the road of repentance begins with CHANGE OF MIND.
To start with something easy, let’s change mind about Christmas trees.
The word Christmas comes from Old English putting together the words Christ and Mass.
The Mass flows to and flows from the Body and Blood of Christ that he says he gave up for us on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.
Christ’s wooden death penalty cross was the first and the true Christ-Mass or Christmas Tree.
As we put up our pretty Christmas trees, let’s use them as reminders to welcome the CHANGE-OF-MIND message in today’s second reading.
… what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolve… and the elements melted…. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him….
If we’d rather not change our minds about how to live honestly as true and bold followers of Christ in this passing world, then let’s quit putting up Christmas trees.
Instead, let’s settle for the gratification of pillow, blanket and lullaby.
However, we didn’t bother to come to Mass today for that alone, did we?
Fear not to cry out: Here is your God! Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
Turn. Love. Repeat.