Christians know that Advent is about preparing – getting ready – for the coming of Christ. Getting ready for his second coming at the end of time and also getting ready for the celebration of his birth at Christmas.
But, in all this talk of preparing for the coming of Christ at the end of time: and of preparing for his coming as the infant of Christmas, with all its frippery and frills, have we forgotten something central to the message of John the Baptist who features early in the Advent journey?
John is not a prophet of doom, predicting the ‘end is nigh’ with vivid portraits of apocalyptic cataclysms.
No! Like Baruch and the prophets of Israel before him his message is a message of consolation. He journeys among the people bringing strength, renewal and restoration to those who are oppressed – and hope to those in despair.
Like the prophets before him – challenging leaders of church and state – pulling no punches and having no qualms about mixing politics and religion – firing off considerable damnation to those who did the oppressing and the driving to despair.
But, in the end, their prophecy was a ministry of comforting and consolation. That’s not to say it’s just a patching up of wounds without rocking any boats – but it is setting things aright. Seeing God’s justice done – seeing evil for what it is and naming it – pointing people forward to the liberation that is God’s gift.
This ministry of prophecy is never a compliant voice, tempered with piety, wishing for change and hoping that one day in the future, if we just stay hopeful and faithful, all will eventually be well. No! The ministry of prophecy is a ministry of activism, often a shrill voice, calling to account, speaking truth to power, taking the risk, with great courage, to see mercy, compassion and justice done and wrongs righted.
And, unlike our usual Advent message, I’m not convinced that the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist was about preparing for some future event like Christmas or the second coming – I think it was all about the here and now.
John the Baptist was the voice crying in the wilderness: “prepare a way for the Lord” because the Lord was already among them – in their very midst. In the leper to be embraced and kissed, in the poor and in the sick, in seeing not just a human being loved by God but seeing in that person the image of the creator and touching the very presence of Christ.
At the altar, Sunday by Sunday, we ponder again the mystery of the Eucharist and the presence of Christ in mere bread and wine – a mystery for many – for many too hard to believe – and yet I find seeing, touching and feeling that presence of Christ in the blessed sacrament easy – what is harder, and in the end more important, is to be able to see, touch and feel Christ’s presence in the ugly, the unloved, the oppressed, the deformed, the outcast, the asylum seeker, in neighbour and stranger – in each other – and even in ourselves.
How easy it is to quickly genuflect before the tabernacle – how much harder to kneel before the outsider knocking at our door and then to wash their feet and offer them hospitality.
In the end the only preparation we can make to meet Christ at the end of time is to meet him now in the people who confront us on our own pilgrimage through life. Those fallen by the wayside who both disguise and reveal the Christ Child of Bethlehem and the Christ who is both King and Judge.
That is what the prophets call us to – meeting Christ, seeing, touching, feeling Christ – a ministry of consolation and compassion – of inclusion and hospitality – not in preparation for some future coming of the Lord – but because God is already – and always – ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.
For in so much as you did it to the least of these – you did it to me.
Fr. Bill Edebohls Parish Priest Mary Mother of the Church Catholic Parish Ivanhoe