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The coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the "First Covenant". He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming. These words from CCC 522 speak to us about what we hear from the prophet Isaiah today. It is almost shocking to think that Isaiah looks forward to the Messiah from our side of history, because we know that Jesus doesn’t come for another 550+ years. Can you imagine that? Just think how long 5 and ½ centuries really is: the prophecies about the Messiah were going on for more than twice the existence of the United States. 550 years ago the people of Europe didn’t even know this land existed.
But Isaiah speaks of it like it is around the corner. That, my friends, is the power of hope. How much hope to we have in our hearts? If not much, where do we get more?
I think the more we look up, the more hope we will have – because when we focus on God we will find peace, but when we look at ourselves, we will only find an incompleteness. Maybe the more we love, or the more we give thanks, or the more we learn about our faith, the more hope we will have. I think the more we prepare for Christ, the more hope we will have.
The journey of conversion is the most important way to prepare for Christ. You know, Isaiah’s prophecy of comfort when the Messiah comes is easy to focus on, but John the Baptist speaks in a totally different tone that is just as important for us to remember. He doesn’t mince words does he? I’m sure I’d get some letters in my mailbox if I said to you guys, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. Yet the advice is just as necessary today as it ever was.
John’s image of the threshing floor is a good one for us to focus on. He is referring to how the harvest is carried out: the wheat is spread out on this floor, is stomped all over and crushed underfoot (or some other weight) then it is winnowed (tossed into the air and fanned so that the good stuff drops and the winds take away all the chaff.
This image of crushing and shedding off the unnecessary excess is a good way to describe what John is trying to do, and what Advent should do for us. Conversion is a messy and difficult business, so much so that the Catechism reminds us in CCC 1431: This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
So yes, it will be difficult, but conversion is worth it. It’s like doing exercise or taking care of your health: it’s not always easy, but it is worth it. Or like overcoming an addiction, even to coffee: it’s going to hurt at first, isn’t it? But it gets better. You know when you lift weights it kills, but then you get stronger.
That’s what John the Baptist’s mission is: preparing us for Jesus with a real wake-up call: you are not okay and you should try to get things in order, no matter what the cost.
If we do so, then the comforting images Isaiah uses for us will be our own, because we will be living already in the Kingdom that Christ will establish here on earth at the end of time. So prepare for Christ’s coming by shedding off what doesn’t matter, focusing on the core of your identity as a child of God, and live more deeply from the hope that is in Christ Jesus. And no matter how much it may hurt, make sacred time each day for prayer and waiting, for looking up to where our hope comes from. It's not easy, but it is worth it.