Jesus Our Shepherd
Mark 1:1-8

This Gospel of Jesus Christ, God's Own, begins with the words of Isaiah the prophet: "I send my messenger before you to prepare your way - a herald's voice in the desert, crying 'Make ready the way of Our God. Clear a straight path.'"

So John the Baptizer appeared in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The entire Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John and were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John himself was clothed in camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate nothing but grasshoppers and wild honey. In the course of his preaching, John declared, "One more powerful than I is to come after me. I am not fit to stoop and untie his sandal straps. I have baptized you in water; the One to come will baptize you in the Holy Spirit."

2 Peter 3:8-14

Dear friends, this point must not be overlooked: in the eyes of the Most High, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. God does not delay in keeping the promise, as some regard "delay." Rather, God shows you a generous patience, desiring that no one perish but that all come to repentance.

The day of our God will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will vanish with a roar. The elements will catch fire and fall apart; and the earth and all its works will be destroyed in the flames. Since everything is to be destroyed in this way, what holy and devoted lives you should lead!

Look for the coming of the day of God, and try to hasten it along. Because of it the heavens will be destroyed in flames, and the elements will melt away in a blaze. What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to the promise, God's justice will reside. So beloved, while waiting for this, make every effort to be found at peace without stain or defilement in God's sight.

Homily for 08 December 2002

Somewhere deep in the northern Wisconsin countryside, a vacationing traveler stops at a gas station to fill up the car's tank and pick up some snacks. While paying his bill, the traveler asks the elderly sales clerk, "What are the people like at the next town down the road?" The clerk counters with a question of her own, "What were they like in the last town you stopped at?" "Actually, they were very friendly and helpful," the traveler responds. "Well," the woman responds "you'll find the people in the next town pretty much the same." And so they were.

Now as it happened, the very next person to stop at that station asks exactly the same question: "What are the people like in the next town down the road?" Again the clerk counters with her own question, "What were they like in the last town you stopped at?" "Oh, very uppity and unfriendly," comes the reply. "Ah well," the clerk said, "you'll find the people in the next town pretty much the same." And so they were. And once again the elderly sales clerk was right, because each traveler upon arriving at the next town, received exactly what he had prepared himself to receive.

In today's Scripture readings, we hear the advice of both the prophet Isaiah and John the cousin of Jesus: "Prepare the way. Get ready for the One who is coming soon!" But Jesus has already come, hasn't he? That's old news. So why are we re-running the same old tapes? Because while Jesus has already arrived out there, in the world, some 2000 years ago according to our calendars, he has not yet always been well received in here - in our hearts! How do we make the coming of Jesus into our hearts happen?

Today's story about the traveler and the sales clerk gives us a clue. The townspeople who live down the road from that gas station are just like us - a confusing and contradictory combination of good and bad, of meanness and grace. When the two travelers arrive, they encounter the same townspeople, but each concludes something very differently from their experiences. What makes the difference? Not something on the outside, but something on the inside, within each of them!

What makes the difference are the eyes and hearts with which each traveler views the world. Those eyes and hearts had been preparing for that visit to the town by a whole lifetime of choosing what to see and what to ignore. The understanding heart of the first traveler is prepared to see through all the contradictory surface data and into the hearts of those townspeople, and in doing so recognize them as basically good people. Whereas the hardened heart and critical eyes of the second traveler is ready to perceive only the ugly and the negative in that town and take that home with him to remember.

Jesus is dwelling here now in our midst, where he always is. Didn't he tell us that where two or more are gathered in his name, he is right there among us? Some of us recognize his face and invite him within our hearts because we have prepared our hearts and made them receptive to his graces. We've accomplished this through many years of recognizing and trusting the good - wherever it appears!

Others of us will see little if anything of Jesus in each other. We see only the mean and the ungrateful because we are blind to the goodness visible all around us. Our hearts and eyes are unable to perceive and respond to the graces God presents us. So we miss the message that Advent brings. Jesus is coming and he definitely wants entrance to our hearts. Where will our story end? With a heart that recognizes and delights in the good when it sees it, or with a hardened heart that knows nothing of joy and peace?

Remember Scrooge in Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol? People tend to remember him as a miserly old man who perceived only the bad and the evil in others. Why. He wasn't even okay with Christmas. "Christmas? Bah Humbug!" was his most memorable quote!

But that was the old Scrooge! He changed, and he changed from within because of the Christmas "ghosts" who visited him in his sleep. Who is to say that these "ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future" were not graces from God? The people in his life were still the same people, with the same mix of good and bad traits. But Scrooge became generous and jovial. He saw each of them differently, from Tiny Tim on. Life was to be enjoyed. Blessings were to be shared. From that first day of his conversion on, Dickens tells us, "no one kept Christmas like Scrooge!"

You say, well that was only a story, written by Charles Dickens. But each of us is writing our own story. We are writing it right now, at this very moment, with every though of our mind, with every feeling of our heart. How will our story turn out? The script is ours to write!