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Second Sunday of Advent (A)

My dear encountered couples:

John the Baptist tells his Jewish brothers and sisters to “reform their lives,” to “give some evidence that they mean to reform.” John is speaking to all of us. We are to prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ that happened a long time ago, and for his coming at the end of our lives. We are to prepare for the Christmas that is now, and the one that will be later.

Some people do a lot to be ready for Christmas. Their families are large and they are accustomed to exchanging gifts. Those who plan ahead and save some money during the year have stores to go to and presents to buy. People with skills of handicraft may have decided to give gifts of their own making and began months ago to get them ready. Those without money nor skill plan other ways to make Christmas special for their favorite people.

Christmas is by far the biggest celebration of the year and the most favorite, especially of children. The trees, the colorful decorations, the cards and gifts, the special meal are all meant to make it wonderful. Maybe we don’t like all the materialism and expense, but, complain as we may, it has been going on for years and will most likely go on for many more. And so we find ourselves doing what we can to celebrate well. But let us not allow all the wordily emphasis put on Christmas make us forget its real meaning. On the contrary let it impress upon us that God is telling us to prepare for something much greater than the celebration of the birthday of his Son. We are to prepare for a coming of Jesus that we won’t find scheduled on our calendars.

Though we might not like to be reminded of it at this time of the year, this is exactly what this time of the year is supposed to remind us. Each of us is going to die! If our death is really going to be our birth into a never ending life of perfect happiness, we had better start preparing — even much more than we are preparing for Christmas. The time will come when we are going to meet Jesus Christ, not as represented by a little wooden figure in a crib, but in the flesh, face to face. He is going to reach out to us to hug us and invite us to his home. Will we say “yes”? Or will it be “no”? Our preparation now, or the lack of it, is already forming in our hearts and on our lips to give him our answer.

Some people try to do away with Christmas. They even try to influence others to ignore it. They reject Jesus Christ and want others to stop believing in him also. One year there were two Jehovah Witness women who stopped by a Catholic rectory in Kentucky the day before Christmas and tried to convince the priest that Jesus was not God and was wasting his time celebrating Christmas. You can guess how successful they were. When they left he wished them a Merry Christmas.

John the Baptist wasn’t as cordial towards some of the Pharisees and Sadducees who visited him. He must have figured their intentions weren’t honorable. Maybe they came to disrupt his work, or make fun of it. I don’t know, but John sure was mad at them. He was trying to prepare people for the coming of Christ. Told them to reform their lives and give up sin. As a sign of sorrow for their sins they were to go into the Jordan and be baptized. He must have suspected that the Pharisees and Sadducees were not sorry for any of their sins. He called them a “brood of vipers,” accused them of pride, and told them to give some evidence that they really were serious about reforming their lives. His methods weren’t exactly gentle or diplomatic. John wasn’t interested in making friends, only in improving souls.

Don’t let anyone discourage you from your preparations — from your preparations to celebrate Christmas as Christ really wants you to prepare. That means preparing also for his second coming at the end of your life. How can you do that? The answer is simple. By renouncing sin! By doing everything you can to eradicate sin from your life.

That’s what John’s reform was all about, wasn’t it? Turning our backs on sin. That’s why Jesus was born into the world, wasn’t it? To save us and free us from sin. Well, it won’t happen until we take the big step and vow, “No more sin for me.” We must face the fact that sin is the greatest evil in our lives and that if we are really serious about our faith, about Christmas, about eternal life and happiness, we have to reject anything and everything that is an act of sin.

This is the age of health freaks. Of course, people always have tried to keep from getting sick. They were usually careful to follow mother’s advice and dress warmly when going outside so they wouldn’t catch cold. Maybe they would drink their morning orange juice, take their daily vitamins, eat at least one good meal a day and get a good night’s sleep. But nowadays daily exercise has been added to the list of many people - along with oat bran, cholesterol free foods, and the elimination of tobacco smoke. Anything and everything is done or avoided in order to stay healthy. Statistics tell us that even promiscuous sex is on the slide, not because it is sinful, but because it is unhealthy, even deadly. Aids is changing people’s bedtime habits.

Why aren’t we interested in our spiritual health at least equally as much as we are in our physical health? We ought to be more interested. Sin is the greatest and most deadly sickness that exists. And its effect can be forever. Cancer ends with death. Sin is eternal. Jesus Christ came to free us from the effects and the habits of sin. Where do we get off thinking that we can avoid the effects while we hang on to the habits?

“Reform your lives!” John the Baptist cried. “The reign of God is at hand.” Christmas is coming. So is the end of your life on earth. Give up sin. Avoid it like the plague. For that is exactly what it is. Don’t take it with you into eternity. Begin now to resolve to do anything and everything it takes to abolish sin from your daily activities. Only in that way will you really be preparing for Christmas.

I wish you well. I wish myself well. And let us wish those two Jehovah Witness ladies well. May we all have the best Christmas of our lives - and be ready for the one, the final, eternal one that is sure someday to come.

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