As we prepare for the Christmas season, it might be useful to contemplate how we resemble our kids. Childhood is when we master situational righteousness. Think of the little child waiting in the department store line summoning up the guts to tell Santa how good he’s been all year and why he deserves the old man’s generosity. Now imagine how we adults (most notably of late, celebrities, politicians and business people) often petition people with power over them—maybe even God—for a big favor at certain times of the year. We do that while wearing our most sincere facades. In both cases, once we feel our requests have been answered one way or the other, the guts summoned up to seek favor are replaced by the hope that the selves we try to hide the rest of the year will stay hidden.
But as we hear throughout this Sunday’s readings for the second week of Advent, we can’t disguise our darker self from the One who knows all of its hiding places. As Jesus told his disciples, He is the way, THE TRUTH and the life, and no one can come to the Father except through Him. The first reading from Isaiah (Is 40:1-5, 9-11) suggests we come out from behind or beneath whatever we think shields us from the Truth and summon the spiritual courage to make straight the lines of communication with Him.
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Our self-issued license to deceive is actually a self-imposed prison sentence that keeps us captive to our fallen nature. We can never be truly free in mind and body until we are spiritually free. As Peter implies in our second reading (2 Pt 3:8-14), we shouldn’t wait until some imagined statute of limitations on our frailties expires. We’ll be waiting an awfully long time. One of God’s days is like a thousand years to us. And truth is not subject to time anyway. It is constant as the North Star. By navigating our lives by it we will always be ready when God is ready to call us to account.
The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. … Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.
That peace is the mark of a child of God. Whoever feels that peace knows the power of the Holy Spirit. In Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk 1:1-8) we meet John the Baptist, the embodiment of one of Isaiah’s promises. His entrance on the public stage was documented at the very top of Mark’s gospel: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. The Baptist preached with a courage made possible by the Holy Spirit, and he promised the arrival of the One who would disseminate that spirit worldwide:
“One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Where did the Baptist find the courage to speak of the One who would change the world and threaten those with the license to kill him? He inherited it while in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. We know that because his mother testified to Mary the effect that being near the Mother of God was having on the baby within her: For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
All children of God are blessed with the same inborn right to inheritance of spirit the Baptist had. They just need to remember Isaiah’s other promise—the one that inspires the courage to abandon our situational righteousness for the real thing:
“Even should a mother forget the infant in her womb, I will never forget you!”