December 6, 2020 – Second Sunday of Advent
Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 / 2 Peter 3:8-14 / Mark 1:1-8
The following homily will be delivered this morning at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
As much as I love my job with Saint Meinrad, it initially presented me with a problem. The responsibilities of the job require that I drive to southern Indiana twice a month, a trip of three hours each way. I also need to occasionally check in on our partner dioceses, some of which are six or more hours away.
The problem? Remaining sedentary is difficult for me. If forced to sit in one place for more than 30 minutes, I tend to get drowsy and may even fall asleep – my wife will attest to this. Driving long distances posed a problem for me.
Back when the kids were young, driving a long distance for vacation was not a problem. Carol and I shared the driving duties, plus we were stopping every ten minutes for a bathroom break or some other child-related emergency. In addition, we enjoyed pulling over to check out interesting sites or local oddities along the way. Any billboard that offered the opportunity to experience the world’s largest or world’s best anything captured our interest.
As I got older, however, long stretches of uninterrupted driving, especially if traveling alone, were a problem for me. I combatted the problem by turning up the volume on the car stereo, but that eventually became white noise. I tried using the cruise control, but it made me too relaxed and comfortable.
The three-hour trip to Saint Meinrad was taking me four or five hours because I needed to stop multiple times – at rest areas to throw water on my face, at convenience stores for caffeine infusions, or pulling over to call Carol so she could talk to me and revive me.
A Christmas gift from my kids two years ago saved me. They bought me a subscription to Audible. For those that may not be familiar with Audible, it is a book streaming service – audio books. Using an app on my phone, I choose a book I want to hear, connect my phone to the car stereo, and listen as the narrator tells me the story.
My mind is no longer drifting off; I am not drowsy, but clear-minded and focused. I am able to accomplish what’s most important – arriving at my destination safely.
When it comes to our relationship with Jesus – when it comes to our faith journey – Advent is our Audible. The prophet Isaiah said it in today’s first reading, “Make straight a highway for our God!” This directive was repeated in the Gospel of Mark: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path.”
Advent clears our minds and gets us focused on what’s most important – being fully prepared to meet Jesus, not only when we celebrate the anniversary of his birth on Christmas Day, but also when our final day comes, when we will meet him face to face. This is why we are warned so often during Advent: “Stay awake!” and “Be alert!” We know that Christmas will come on December 25th, but we don’t know when we will meet Jesus face to face. In his second letter, Peter reminds us, “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
We struggle with faith fatigue. Our ultimate goal, our sincere desire as Christians, is eternal life and that encounter with Jesus.
Christ built the road for us. His life, death, and resurrection served to carve out a path leading us back to him, a direct path to heaven; he loved us that much. We return his love and show our gratitude by choosing to travel that path.
Jesus gave us a direct paved highway to follow. The GPS instructions are simple: “Continue straight until you arrive.”
However, once we begin our journey – once we are buckled in our car and turn onto the road Jesus built for us – challenges await us.
As is human nature, we almost immediately look for ways to make traveling easier. We can let Carol drive, just close our eyes and let the world go by. Carol will take the wheel and do the heavy lifting of our faith – daily prayer, working at the food bank, reaching out to others in need. We aren’t doing it ourselves, but as long as it’s getting done, right? We can ride her coat tails. When all us Christians arrive to meet Jesus, the Carols of the world can vouch for us. They can point to us and tell Jesus, “They’re with me.”
Or we can turn on our faith cruise control: We go to Mass (live or virtually) each Sunday – check. We are good stewards of our treasure and donate regularly – check. We say the right things in public that make people think, “That person must be a Christian” – check. These are all admirable and certainly part of the journey Jesus intends for us.
However, letting someone else drive or using cruise control lull us into a false sense of security. We may miss the people on the fringe, those standing along the side of the road that need our help or need a ride. Perhaps they are lost and we could get them back on the right path. When we allow Carol to do the driving or use cruise control, the first thing we do is take our own foot off the gas.
We can’t allow a false sense of security to convince us we are doing all we can; our work is never done.
Because our work is never done, we get tired and are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. Signs telling us there is a rest area ahead are beckoning us. “This is too difficult,” we tell ourselves as we pull off the road. How many disciples eventually left Jesus, using that same excuse? How much rest is enough? We convince ourselves that if ten minutes is good, twenty minutes must be even better – and reaching our destination is further delayed. The rest area is tempting, but Jesus reminds us: “I will give you rest.”
Perhaps the most dangerous obstacles we encounter on our road to meet Jesus are the billboards — billboards that boldly proclaim there is something better. They are intended to distract us. They want us to leave the road we’re on. This is the ultimate battle between temporary things and eternal things. It is flesh versus spirit, immediate gratification versus delayed glory. The problem with billboards is they offer much and deliver little. The small amount of pleasure they deliver lasts only until the next billboard catches our eye. There is billboard after billboard calling us off the path that leads to Jesus.
While the road Jesus paved for us is straight and smooth, we face our demons when trying to navigate the route.
In our second reading, we heard these words from Peter: “…conduct yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for the coming of the day of God… be eager to be found without blemish before him, at peace.”
That is what Advent can help us achieve – arriving to meet Jesus face to face without blemish, arriving at peace.
It is a journey that has its challenges. However, like Audible, we can click on the Advent app, connect it to our car stereo, and let Jesus tell us the story.
If you would like to listen to the above homily, click below: