Don’t you just hate those people who absolutely must have the latest iPhone or iPad to show off as soon as it’s released? It’s cool to have the latest thing isn’t it, and the old is just… well, simply uncool! And our faith that we’ve learned about since we were kids certainly seems pretty old now, doesn’t it?
Well, I know we don’t often get the message, but that is why the Church has Advent and Lent – times to take a fresh look at our beliefs and make a new start – to shake things up a little. In the case of Advent, it’s kinda like spring cleaning before Christmas. Since being elected earlier this year, Pope Francis has been shaking things up. He has a bashed-up used car to drive round The Vatican mile and has told priests to do the same thing instead of driving big fancy cars. He personally calls people on the phone who write to him! He has told us to speak in kinder and more charitable words to everyone, even if they may never agree with us (a bit like St. Paul to the Romans in today’s second reading!) And Pope Francis has told us that we are supposed to shake things up, too. So how are these Advent readings today intended to help us shake things up or spring clean our soul?
Well, first the prophet Isaiah… now I come from England, which used to be famous for Monty Python comedy (OK – if you don’t know who Monty Python was, then go check ‘em out on YouTube!) In skits and movies they could have lots of fun with these crazy guys called prophets saying “the end is near” and all kinds of weird things. In a way they’re right, the prophets did say things that sounded crazy… Isaiah said the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the Messiah (or savior), but God had never sent a savior before so they had no way of knowing what that meant… the wolf will be the guest of the lamb, and the lion with the calf – c’mon, they will eat them!!! But really what he was telling them is that things you could never imagine will happen, and don’t just assume what you take for normal is going to always be the case. Get ready to be surprised… sounds kinda exciting, no?
In the Gospel we hear about John the Baptist appearing… another crazy man! They tell us he wore animal skin and ate insects, yet the crowds flocked to this hippie! He baptized them, so they were getting a new start with God, just as we can this Advent. But what did he say? He said there is one coming who will baptize you with FIRE and the Holy Spirit! Well, we all like a shower, right, or a swim, water is nice, but fire… generally we are taught to keep a safe distance from it! Water washes but fire burns and destroys… Maybe that’s what John is telling us this Sunday – we need to not just wash our hands, but be willing to BURN away everything wrong in our lives. Do you know anyone who hoards all kinds of useless old stuff? Maybe you tell them that they need to throw it out? Well, so do we! So the new thing this Sunday is that we cannot change our lives with just a sprinkling of water, but we must BURN away all the old garbage. You got any spiritual garbage to burn?