Advent calls us to hear, reassure those who ‘cry out
By Father Timothy Hepner
Second Sunday of Advent/Dec. 4
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
Diogenes, one of the founders of the ancient school of philosophy called cynicism, was a crude and disruptive figure whose life was a running commentary on the insincerity of most men. Living in a barrel outside the city of Corinth, he spurned the elite of society. When Alexander the Great came out to meet Diogenes in his barrel and offered him anything he wished, Diogenes replied, “What you’ve taken away, you can never give me. You’re standing in my sun.” He is best known for carrying a lantern around in the daylight. When asked what he was doing he replied, “I am looking for an honest man.”
If Diogenes had lived 350 years later he would have found his honest man in the desert of Judea. John the Baptist was also a disruptive figure who lived on the fringes of society and embraced a shockingly austere lifestyle. Yet for all his disruptiveness, John wasn’t crude, and he was strangely attractive to the people of Israel. He was harsh with the elite of his day, calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” and warning them that, if they repent, they would be like trees that are “cut down and thrown into the fire.”
We all know people who “say it like it is.” Though taken aback by their brashness, we’re often refreshed by their honesty. John the Baptist was the Honest Man par excellence who spoke God’s truth to the people, warning them to turn from sin and telling them to repent and “make straight the path of the Lord.” But John also spoke man’s truth. “Gaudium et Spes,” a document of Vatican II, asserts that Jesus “fully reveals man to himself.” John the Baptist participated in this revelation. He is humanity stripped down to its bare essence.
His “crying out” is the raw desire of broken humanity to see God and be healed. His is the cry of victims of war who thirst for their family and homes to be restored to them. It’s the cry of the mentally ill and the veterans who live in our streets and lack compassion and stability. It’s the silent cry of the frozen, abandoned embryos in labs, of children who have been neglected or abused. It’s also the cry of the sinner, who stumbles under the weight of his or her sin and desires to set things right and make the path straight again.
A TIME OF HOPE
We often stifle this cry within ourselves and others, short-circuiting it with distractions and pleasures. When I scroll down my favorite news site, I see articles about shootings and financial crises alongside celebrity gossip. We close our eyes to the ones “crying out,” or we turn to entertainment, because we know implicitly that we don’t have the solution. This is what keeps us from being honest: fear that we can’t heal ourselves or those around us.
But John the Baptist stands at the beginning of Advent giving us hope. “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I.” Jesus, whose name means “God saves,” is coming and has already come. He has already begun restoring what has been taken, and healing what is broken. And his final coming will bring this work to completion. This time between the two comings is a mixture of pain and hope. It is the “already-but-not-yet” in which we’re called to continually repent.
Advent is the time for us to strip away our distractions and to become familiar once again with poverty — our own and that of those around us. As the days darken, we can spend more time in silence and less time with glowing screens. We can read through the Scriptures or pick up a spiritual book. We can do a thorough examination of conscience and go to confession. We can go to meet those who live on the fringes of society crying out, not for an honest man but for God himself. And we can reassure them that God is coming.