Last week as we entered into this season of Advent, I left you with a question: ‘What spiritual preparations are we taking to show Christ we are ready to welcome him when he comes?’
In this second Sunday of Advent, we are invited to keep up with our spiritual preparations through the way of conversion- metanoia, or change of heart. This is one message for us in the gospel this Sunday, as a way to ‘prepare a way for the Lord and to make his paths straight’, as a way to ‘repent’ and to ‘be ready for the coming of the Kingdom of heaven.’
But ‘such a call (CONVERSION) is not likely to fall on eager ears’, says one preacher (Michael Kent). ‘The older we get’, he continued, ‘the more set we become in our ways- and the more determined we become to keep it that way…We’ve grown comfortable with our routines and habits and through many bitter lessons, have learned to avoid anything that might rock our boat. We’ve gotten used to ourselves and are usually very defensive in the face of criticisms about our manners and lifestyles. We’ve become comfortable even with many of our faults and often show great imagination in the way we deny or make excuses for them.’
It sounds like me to be honest with you. I noticed that at times, my heart has become more proud, more self-centred, more on my own and less for others. Just to realize this, seems to me that I have only a little hope for conversion. Certainly I’d feel this way at times. However, I’m always consoled by the fact that I am not a sole traveller and I am not walking on a seemingly endless road. I have a goal to achieve and I have someone accompanying me, helping me all the time, carrying me up when I felt like I’m completely drained of my strength.
This goes to show that conversion is not our own making. It is God’s way of ‘fixing our broken heart’ to borrow a line from a song. Yet, conversion doesn’t just happen to us without us opening ourselves completely to God and to God’s will.
For conversion to happen to us we need to learn from John the Baptist.He knows who he is, what his limits are, and what is expected of him. In John the Baptist’s time, there was still this strong social expectation for a messiah. In no time, when John started preaching, he gained followers from all over the surrounding districts. He could have taken advantage of the opportunity and claim he is the messiah. But no, he knows he is only a herald of the message, not the message itself. He knows he is only the voice in the wilderness and not the Word himself. He knows himself and he knows his place before the Lord. So we could only hear him say: ‘The one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit (even) to carry his sandals.’
Sometimes we may fall into the trap of messiah complex- of pretending to be someone we are not or can never be, of trying to do everything we can to save the world, or to make people follow our way or to impose our own opinions to others. We need to be aware of this, because there is only one Messiah, Jesus the Christ, and what God wants of us is to turn to him and be humble before the him.
For conversion to happen also demands of us to focus more on Jesus and his message. This challenges us because as someone says of Christ, ‘He is too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberals.’ In other words, we can’t really take the message of Jesus without any trace of resistance in our part or without taking it as a challenge to how we live, how we carry out our lives and to how we work as witnesses of Christ in our world today. But if we stay focused on Jesus and his message, we come to realize that things might be difficult at times, they are not impossible. Things might be hard to swallow or to take at times, but they are helping us to grow and mature in the faith.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus would also help us realize that conversion is not just ‘to claim’ we believe in God or ‘we have Abraham as our father’, but rather it moves us to do something for Christ- i.e. being his ambassadors in the world. Having Jesus Christ before us and in all aspects of our life, enables us to follow and imitate his examples and through this, as St Paul would tell us in the Second reading, we may be empowered to ‘treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ himself treated us.’
To pave the way to conversion and thus paving the way of the Lord also means that we must strive to produce a good fruit– a fruit that is life-giving, enriching and lasting. This is a big call. Yet it is possible. Thanks to the examples of many great men and women before us who have paved the way for us by showing us that even in the bitterest, in the most difficult situations and in even in the brink of death and despair, we can still produce a good fruit. This comes as a reflection on the life of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest figures and leaders in our century, a remarkable man who had not only produced a good fruit for Africa but for the benefit of all the world. He laboured to have certain things, ideas and understanding challenged and attitudes changed, not for his own sake but for everyone concerned.
So as we continue celebrating this Advent Season, let’s ask ourselves:
Are we on the way to conversion?
How are we going as we walk on the way to conversion?