10 December 2017

What kind of person ought you to be?

2nd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Last Sunday, I called Advent “winter's Lent.” And there is a penitential flavor to the season. But there is also a taste of rejoicing before we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. We turn out our sins and expose them to the Lord’s mercy, AND we rejoice at the promise of His coming again. We take stock of the time we’ve spent so far, AND we offer to for God's blessing the time we have left. Repent and rejoice. Convert and sing praise. Confess and follow righteousness. Therefore, prepare His way in your heart, your mind, your body, and your soul. Lay a clear path to the center of your covenant with Him, open the gates of your reason for His light, make a gift of your work for His works of compassion, and your soul an offering of immortal praise. Now is the time for searching faults and finding mercy, for opening wounds and finding health. Advent is the time to straighten your path to God. Advent, winter's Lent, is that time for us to ask ourselves: what sort of person ought I to be?

And so, what sort of person ought you to be? This is the perfect question for Advent because it is a question that requires us to think in terms of who we ARE and how we ought to ACT. It is a question that requires us to think about how we balance between being good and doing good. In his letter, Peter, asks his readers what sort of persons they should be given the coming of the Lord. He then immediately elaborates on the question by adding, “…conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” Who we ARE goes hand in hand with how we ACT. For the beloved of the Lord, being good and doing good are inseparately bound together. We wait and prepare and repent. We cultivate holiness and practice devotion. And like John the Baptist, we cry out in the desert of wherever we are: “Get ready! He’s on His way!” Who ought we to be? We ought to be prophets.

As the One Who Comes Before the Christ, John the Baptizer appears out of the desert preaching repentance. As the prophet Isaiah says, he is the messenger sent ahead, a voice from the desert urging those who hear his cry to “prepare the way of the Lord.” This makes John a prophet, a herald. He’s the guy who showed up first, told the truth about Who and What was coming, and offers those who listen a chance to get themselves straight with God. He is an alarm ringing in Jerusalem, calling everyone away from sin and toward righteousness.

John isn’t just about serving up the doom and gloom of The End. He offers more than a prediction and sharp tongue. John made it possible in his preaching for those listening to begin a better way toward God, to start over with the Father and bear good fruit. He offers a baptism of water to wash away repented sins. And he offers a vision of the straightened path to the Father: the good fruits of repentance will show that you are ready for the coming of the Lord AND make you a prophet. Yes, we ought to be prophets, but are we ready to be prophets?

It is not enough that we acknowledge our sins, wash in the baptismal waters, and come spotless to God. Our acknowledgment of sin, our willingness to be found without blemish, must produce good fruit. Being good in theory builds lovely temples in the air. Doing good for show makes good religious theater. But airy temples never last and the curtain falls on even the best theater! Living our lives as prophetic witnesses – that’s the sort of folks we ought to be!

But what does it mean for us to be prophetic? It doesn’t mean putting on camel hair shirts and eating locusts and honey. It doesn’t mean standing on the street screaming about fire and God’s wrath. It doesn’t even mean being particularly pious or holy if by “pious” and “holy” we mean being outwardly righteous for show. 
Nor does being prophetic mean taking all the right political positions, protesting all the wrong ones, signing petitions, and marching around with wearing little buttons and issuing self-important statements. All that can be as empty as false piety.

So, what does being prophetic mean? Let’s look at John. He comes out of the desert, a desolate place, a place devoid of life. He finds his voice there. Outside family, friends, culture, and civilization, John finds a voice to proclaim the Coming Christ. He doesn’t use this voice to promote himself. He speaks of Another. He doesn’t prepare the way for his own celebrity. He celebrates Christ. He doesn’t try to make his own life easier by claiming some sort of divine connection. He makes the paths straight for the Lord. He doesn’t try to “fit in” or blend in or “inculturate.” He preaches against the cultural grain, against the prevailing morals. He is not concerned about being comfortable with his role or finding satisfaction in his ministry or being a team player. His is a lonely voice. He does not coddle the legalists or the revolutionaries, the lawyers or the trendy academics. He calls them to repentance and a life of good fruits. He points again and again to Christ, the mightier One, the One Who Comes to baptize in the Spirit. Always pointing toward Christ, always toward Jesus. This is what a prophet does. 
Absolutely, we ought to be prophets. We are ready to be prophets if we will acknowledge our sin. Repent. Turn around. Face God. Produce good fruit first and then expect it from others. We will be prophets if with every thought, word, and deed we proclaim the coming of the Christ – as a child and as a Just Judge. Advent is our training season. Now is the time to get into prophetic-shape!

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