Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 3:1–12
On my daughter’s eighth birthday, we invited her entire class to our home for pizza and cake. As I blew up balloons and hung streamers, my husband’s contribution to getting the house “party ready” was deep cleaning the front hall closet just thirty minutes before our little guests arrived. He completely emptied it; coats, brooms, an old trunk, a jogger stroller, sports equipment, and power tools, creating a massive pile of junk in the front entrance of our home. Did he think I was serving the pizza in the closet? This happened over ten years ago, and I am still scratching my head.
Clearly, we have our differences when it comes to preparing.
Today’s gospel continues our Advent theme of being prepared, and John the Baptist’s message is clear, leaving no room for differences. “Repent,” he cries, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This, my friends, is not a suggestion. It’s a wake-up call. The kingdom of heaven is near, as close as your hand! So change your attitude, order your priorities, and do a total about-face in spirit, mind, and heart. This is no joke; the Messiah will come. Are you prepared?
Will the Messiah’s second coming happen this Advent? Probably not. But as Dr. Brant Pitre says, “He might not come back this Advent, but you might die this Advent.” A sobering reality and not something you want to print on your Christmas cards. However, it is true. We don’t know the day or hour of our particular judgment. I don't say this to frighten you; I say this because, as my sister in Christ, I love you. I may not always know with clarity what the Lord is asking me to do, but I know what He is asking me not to do, and that is watering down the gospel message.
Today’s message might not be what you think. The Enduring Word Bible commentary gave me something new to consider: “John’s main message wasn’t 'You’re a sinner, you need to repent.' John’s main message was 'Messiah the King is coming.' The call to repentance was the response to the news that the King and His kingdom were coming—indeed, already here in one sense.”
The secular response to the approaching birth of our King is equally urgent but misses the mark, teaching us how to prepare the external versus for the eternal. The world suffocates us in overpriced wrapping paper, sticks a bow on our heads, and hurls us into a crowd of chaos, where we drown ourselves in debt and distraction, deaf to God’s voice while sipping a peppermint latte.
John the Baptist, however, urges us to use this time differently. He calls us into the desert, strips us of everything, and drowns us in the love of God. He doesn’t preach, “Retail!” but rather, “Repent!”
“Repent” is not simply about feeling sorry for your sins because it is not a feeling word. It’s an action. Yes, you should feel bad for your sins because they hurt your relationship with God, but you should also do something to make a change, or as the prophet Isaiah had spoken: “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).
The imagery of Matthew’s passage is one of building up a level and smooth road for the arrival of a majestic king. “The idea is taken from the practice of Eastern monarchs, who whenever they entered on a journey or an expedition, especially through a barren and unfrequented or inhospitable country, sent harbingers or heralds before them to prepare the way.”
I am not suggesting you get access to a digger, build a trench, and pave yourself an actual road this Advent. I’m saying it’s time we take John’s warning seriously. When the Messiah comes, He will not ask to dwell in our perfectly decorated rooms with Christmas flannel bedding, no matter how Instagram-worthy we think it is.
He wants to inhabit our hearts.
Practically speaking, how do we prepare our hearts?
Read the following passage (Isaiah 40:4), and imagine it’s your heart the prophet is speaking of:
Every valley shall be lifted up,
Every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made plain,
The rough country, a broad valley.
Another translation reads: the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain. This one speaks to me, pulling up a clear image of my heart with its bristly patches and distorted patterns. Let’s be honest, friends. Our hearts are wounded, we’ve gotten really good at numbing the pain until Christmas rolls around, and then all bets are off because nothing magnifies the brokenness, anxiety, and disappointment in our hearts like the secular Christmas.
Jesus doesn’t want you to shop your pain away. He wants to heal it. I encourage you to sit in the quiet with the Lord. Hand over your heart as is, with all of its pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Ask Him to shine a light on the parts that need new paving. Pray for strength to change what needs changing, and go and make that change. Run to Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation and thank Him for healing your heart and restoring your hope.
Food for thought or journaling…
What is the Lord asking you to change? Who can you be a John the Baptist to this Advent season? Is there a friend or family member in need of a wake-up call?
Dear God, I want to prepare my heart to meet You. I give You permission to lift up every valley and level the ground. Amen.
 The Spiritual Life and the Advent Season (The Mass Readings Explained Intro); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LDvLDyEs-Q.