JOHN AND THE VOICE OF CONVERSION; A LESSON FOR ADVENT
The season of Advent is so designed as a moment of repentance. It is a season so made by the church to prepare us for the second coming of Christ both as a judge of the living and the dead and the re-enactment of his incarnation. The church therefore desires that her members during this period give themselves to prayer, fasting/alms and penance. These are marks/fruits of repentance. Thus this was the business of John the Baptist preparing people for the coming Messiah by the way of repentance from sins and accepting the good news. John the Baptist is a prophetic voice for all ages: his message speaks to us today, for conversion as part of the Christian way of living.
Conversion is the process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another. It can be described as: a rebirth, transformation, transmutation, modification, a change of attitude; emotion, or viewpoint from one of indifference, disbelief, or antagonism to one of acceptance and faith. It can also be said to mean an attitudinal substitution of a particular mode of life with another of greater value. Conversion prepossesses an ontological reconfiguration of a person. It is a change that not only affects the physical person but the entire being of the person. I prefer to refer to conversion as an ontological reconfiguration because it displaces the foreskin of the individual’s heart introducing right into the inner being/self a new element and mode of personhood. This is the Christian expectation for advent. John is reminding us today of the need to live the mode of this season: prayer, fasting/alms and penance which directly lead us to deep rooted conversion and readiness to receive the second coming of Christ. By so doing we would be making the path on which he would walk straight.
Regarding today’s first reading; “Impossible,” some people will say. “The wolf can never live in peace with the lamb because it is in the nature of the wolf to eat the lamb, its also in the nature of the leopard to eat the goat kid, the lion to eat the calf and the bear to eat the cow …..” But that is exactly the point! Just as it is impossible, naturally speaking, for the wolf to live in peace with the lamb, the leopard with the goat kid, the lion with the calf and the bear with the cow so it is impossible for us to live the life of harmonious coexistence today. Little wonder I make haste to claim that the philosopher, Thomas Hobbes was right when he made a declarative statement on the human condition in the state of nature; “man is wolf to man.” An African Igbo proverb says that “A fish grows big by eating other fish.” Observing the human community and human relationships, one gets the impression that there are two kinds of people, the oppressors and the oppressed. The dividing line between the two groups runs through gender, ethnicity and race, social class and religious affiliation. A radical transformation of our human nature is required. With our natural heart and selfish inclinations this may not be very possible such that we need a second and transformed heart. We need a completely new heart! This radical transformation of human nature is possible only by God’s grace. Thus such heart is the fruit of conversion which St. John tells us today.
When Isaiah said, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them…” (Is. 11:6) he was providing a picture of a Messianic era when paradise would be restored. This era, partially fulfilled through Jesus Christ, is approaching its final day when the coming of Christ shall be upon us. Accordingly, we must “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” (Mt. 3:3) Today’s Reading from the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 3:1-12); we appreciate John’s message as that of repentance and conversion in preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven that was at hand. It is the same message that Jesus proclaimed when He began His ministry in Galilee. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Mt. 4:17). Grabbing this opportunity for repentance and conversion during this season of advent, we would be found ready at Christ’s coming.
The peace promised in Jesus and that we long for is something that must begin in our own hearts. It is something that we must work for. We cannot leave it all to God. Peace occurs when we make decisions that lead towards peace. So even though we have found Jesus in his glorious dwelling, the Church, because of the consequences of the sin of Adam and the brokenness we all share we each have much work to do in our lives. Therefore the words of John the Baptist in our Gospel today are words that we want to make our own also,. By producing good fruit through repentance we will be bringing peace to ourselves, to others and healing our relationship with God. Repentance and good fruit is a grace from God so let us pray this Advent that we may receive the grace from God to produce the good fruit of repentance and bring peace.
Isaiah is talking here of “tolerating” or putting up with” the other. The peace of this new world order is not merely an absence of war or friction. No. It is a peace of harmonious live-and-let-live based on justice and the mutual recognition that everyone has got the right not only to life but also to the good life. It is only when the lion and the wolf give up their “natural tendencies and privileges” and begin to eat grass like the cow that one can truly say that “all animals are equal.” As long as some animals lay claim to being “more equal” than others there can be no justice and no peace. In our personal and business life do we consciously or unconsciously operate on the principle that for us to win someone else has to lose? The vision of the new world order to which the prophets invite us today is founded on the principle that we can all be winners.
Let us look out today in our places of work, our families, and wherever we find ourselves. Attitudes are the sources of human behavior. If we want to reform the way we treat others we have to begin with our attitudes towards them. We need to hear John the Baptist’s message as it applies to us. If we receive Him in our hearts and souls, deep down within and not simply with good wishes and nice thoughts, then the change that we receive will empower us to deal with one another, love one another and those around us as God would have us.