John the Baptizer is a rather odd duck. Rather than living in town, he lived in the desert. He wore strange clothes and ate weird food. He was hardly a warm fuzzy preacher. His words were harsh, and his call conversion to God, displayed an immediate urgency. He did not simply tell people what they wanted to hear, but spoke the truth so sharply, he made enemies. And yet perhaps because of this honesty, people found in his message a call to conversion they eagerly embraced. As Jesus says in another part of the gospel, tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners embraced the message. And in getting ready for the coming of Jesus, John tilled the soil of people’s hearts in a way that required brutal honesty.
It should not surprise us then,we too are called on the second Sunday of Advent to an honest assessment of our need for conversion. Even a cursory look at our world, indicates that we, as Christians convicted by the words of Christ, have too often not reached out to serve the poor, have not healed hearts riddled by too much violence, or have not lived simply, seeking money or material possessions, we forget the real important priorities of our lives, even the priority of those whom we love.
There are times in our lives we need such a harsh preacher. And while such words may not always seem pleasant when first spoken, in retrospect they can be the type of words that bring us joy and lasting peace. Perhaps it is because of experiences like the one described in the first reading. There are moments in our own lives where we too are called to shake off those events of misery and sadness, to recognize a new joy of living. And often times it takes a preacher such as John to get our attention.
The Philippian community, to whom Paul writes in the second reading Elicits a different type of response. When I first began teaching, it was not unusual to be told that teachers should feel the same way about every student. Some teachers, this admonition caused great conflict, because as human beings, teachers do have their favorites. What should’ve been said, is that every teacher should treat fairly every student. Like any teacher, Paul too had his favorites. This community at Philippi was certainly one of them. They bring him great joy, that Paul experiences simply in recallalling them, remembering experiences he’s had in their midst. Unlike other communities, such as the Galatians, whom he describes as stupid, Paul has nothing but high praise for the community at Philippi. Throughout this letter of the Bible, Paul’s affection for the Philippians shine through again and again.
These two contrasting preachers remind us that the word joy can be used in a variety of contexts. There are those moments of inexpressible joy such as the birth of a child that we find it difficult to express in words. There is another type of joy that we experience when hard work manifests itself in a project well done. And there is yet another type of joy, such as when someone addicted to alcohol or drugs is able to turn their life in healthier directions. While we use the same word to describe each experience, these experiences varying degrees of intensity. But the readings remind us about today, is the just is the same word joy can describe many different realities of human emotion, so too can we experience God in a variety of ways.
There are times in our lives where we need to hear the sharp challenging words of the John the Baptizer.there are other moments, where we need to experience the fondness of our God as evidenced in the kind words of St. Paul to the community at Philippi. The beauty of our God is his deep knowledge of each one of us. As a result, God’s invitation the said event is as unique as each one of us, each of us is called to accept this invitation in a personal way, one that leads to our salvation.