Third Sunday of Advent
On the first Sunday of Advent we spoke of the need to go to confession, to accept that we do sin and to say sorry. Last week we acknowledged that true sorrow includes not just confession but taking steps to avoid sin in the future and turning with renewed love and renewed faithfulness to Our Blessed Lord for in him alone, in encountering Jesus is our happiness to be found.
That encounter is at the heart of prayer and it is what is New about the New testament. It is at the heart of John the Baptist’s words and actions in today’s gospel. For in today’s Gospel the Old Testament gives way to the New, John the Baptist to Jesus, the Prophets to the actual Word of God.
When people ask “What must we do” John’s answers are clear. To the well off “Care for the poor”, to the tax collectors “act justly” to the soldiers “act with humility”. This is not new, in away it sums up the whole of the Old Testament. But when the people make the mistake of thinking John might be the Messiah – he quickly corrects them. The Messiah brings something completely new. John’s teaching remains valid, we must act in charity, with justice and humility, the water of John’s Baptism is necessary – but the one who is coming brings more, he baptises with the Holy Spirit – he is the new reference point, he sorts out the wheat from the chaff – later when John sees him he will say “behold the lamb of God”. He is the one.
This is the fundamental difference – we follow not a set of laws but a person – and not a historical character like Buddha, or Mohamed, – but a person who rose from the dead and is present now in the Blessed Sacrament, a person who is in fact God. We follow a person and we need to get to know him.
We come to know him through prayer. Yes he reveals himself through the Sacraments, in the scriptures and the teaching and tradition of the Church, which often includes the examples of our parents and teachers, but personal private prayer must be there too. We have to spend time with Jesus and allow him to make himself and his love known to us. May be some people can’t spare one hour a day for prayer (though I suspect most people watch more than an hour of television each day) at the least everyone can say the angelus at midday and six o’clock, have a CD of the rosary in your car, say grace before and after meals.
But in the end that’s probably not enough. There is no saint who did not pray. How else can we get to know Jesus, to learn to love the one who loves us. It isn’t easy. It takes time to get to know and love anyone – here we are talking about getting to know God, and his burning love for us.
It isn’t easy, and I don’t just mean finding the time, but actually developing, growing in, building that relationship with Jesus. It is slow sometimes, dramatic at other times, with moments of consolation, with moments of emptiness, but each minute we spend in prayer, slowly, imperceptibly the love and knowledge of Jesus seeps through.
We must give time, which means, offering, loss and surrender, at the very least morning and evening prayers, some time, even only ten minutes reading the scriptures, some time reading the lives of the saints or their writings. Otherwise we will not grow in the love of God.
So, so far in our Advent journey, Confession, the realisation that answers, fulfilment & happiness are found only in loving Jesus and being loved by him, and the path to that is prayer.
Next week we will look at the Incarnation – how God becomes Man, who and what Jesus is.