by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, "What should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages."
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier that I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
There are two kinds of waiting. There is passive waiting – nothing more than sitting around, tapping your feet, twiddling your thumbs, drumming your fingers, looking at your watch. It suggests a lack of hope and love. It fails to prompt us to action because the object of waiting does not seem worth it. Then there is the kind of waiting full of expectation – the kind that makes us resist any distractions or other loves. This waiting is anything but passive. It is full of energy and action, fueled by anticipation of what we love. We tend to slouch into the first kind of waiting. We need to stir ourselves to the second.
When we come to the feast of the Epiphany (to fast forward a bit), we will find an example of the first passive form of waiting. The Magi catch the chief priests and scribes flat-footed, not knowing that the Messiah had been born. The leaders of Israel had fallen into that passive waiting – a sleepy, sluggish sitting around. They had forgotten that the Messiah’s coming required constant vigilance. More to the point, they had lost their desire to greet the Messiah . . . and failed to prepare . . . and were caught unaware.
The second, active kind of waiting characterizes the crowds that went out to John the Baptist. They “were filled with expectation” (Lk 3:15). Their desire to see and receive the Messiah – “the one who is to come” (Lk 7:19) – stirred them into action, out of the comfort of their homes, into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. This hopeful expectation requires something of us personally. The crowds sensed as much and asked John, “What should we do?” (Lk 3:10) They intuited that they should be active while awaiting the Messiah – preparing themselves, making changes to their lives in anticipation.
And this kind of waiting is practical. John the Baptist does not deal in vague advice or pious generalities. He has specific instructions for all who ask. To the crowds: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:11). To the tax collectors: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed” (Lk 3:13). And to the soldiers: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (Lk 3:14). The coming of the Messiah, in short, cannot be something we passively await. We must prepare ourselves to receive and greet Him.
The church exhorts us, as John did the crowds, to this active waiting. She gives us Advent not just to sit around and wait for the Savior but to stir up a desire to see Him and to reform our lives in light of His coming. We are to shake the sleepiness from us and renew the love we first had.
As John the Baptist’s preaching implies, there is a penitential character to Advent. But it is somewhat different from Lent’s. In Lent we consider Our Lord’s suffering for our sins, and we therefore repent. In Advent we look forward to receiving Jesus at His birth – and for that reason we cleanse ourselves of sin. Like the crowds in the wilderness, our expectation should prompt us to reform our lives, to that renewal that comes especially from the sacrament of penance.
There is a blessed inconvenience that comes from this waiting. It disrupts our comfort and calls us to prepare. In so doing it calls us back to that childlike joy of anticipation that we once knew- and which the Father desires His children to know again, more deeply.
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