Sunday, December 4, 2016 – Second Sunday of Advent
Note: This homily was originally delivered on December 9, 2013 at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. (Matthew 3:3)
When I was young, I used to read a comic strip in the Sunday paper called Family Circus. At the time, I didn’t think it was all that funny. It didn’t make much sense to me. It wasn’t until I was older, and was married and had a family, that I found the humor in this comic. It all made sense then.
One of the recurring story lines in the comic had to do with how distracted children can get when carrying out the simplest of tasks. For example, in the first scene of the comic, the dad would say something like, “Billy, could you go out and get the mail?” The mailbox was just 100 feet from the front door.
The second scene showed Billy walking into the house 30 minutes later empty handed, and Dad asking, “Where’s the mail?” To which Billy responds with a confused look on his face, “What mail?”
The final, large scene had a dotted line indicating Billy’s somewhat indirect route to the mailbox: He stopped to pet the dog. He ran back and forth through the sprinkler a few times. He jumped over the fence and sat on the porch with his neighbor, and enjoyed some lemonade and a cookie. He ran across the street to check out his friend’s new tree house. He pushed himself along the sidewalk on a skateboard. He stopped to get a push-up from the ice cream truck. And finally, after mastering the hopscotch course on the sidewalk, he headed inside.
Instead of taking a straight path to complete the task, he had hopped, skipped, and jumped into a multitude of distractions. If I didn’t have a son like this myself, I would never have believed it.
Billy knew where the mailbox was, and understood the task he needed to complete, but he allowed distractions to take him off course.
Today’s Gospel tells us to go get the mail: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
We understand the way of the Lord, we know the path that will take us to Him, but we allow distractions to take us off course. Somehow, on our way down the path, our priorities get out of whack. We put off what we know is right until another day – thinking we have all the time in the world. After all, the mail will still be there, won’t it?
Therein lies our problem – our human need for immediate gratification. The dog was right there, so Billy petted him. The sprinkler felt good, so he ran through it a few times. Tree climbing and skateboarding were fun and immediate. Billy was hungry and a cookie and a push-up were readily accessible. When it was all said and done, because of the distractions, he never made it to the mailbox. Luckily, it was only mail he was after.
Today’s Gospel, actually the entire Advent season, encourages us to take the path of least distraction. We want eternal life and know it is in the mailbox at the end of the path. If we have heeded the advice of John the Baptist, that path will be straight, and our journey uncorrupted by distractions.
If we are easily distracted, maybe we should turn the tables on our way of thinking. Maybe we should allow ourselves to be distracted by God.
Let’s pretend for a moment that our ultimate goal is to accumulate and immerse ourselves in earthly things – things of no real value. So all those earthly things are in that mailbox, and I’m on my way down the path to retrieve them.
But I get distracted by prayer. It is immediate and I get a rush from having this intimate conversation with God.
Before I can get back on the path to my ultimate goal of earthly things, I get distracted again, this time by Reconciliation. It feels so good to be cleansed and renewed, and unburdened by sin. I actually feel lighter.
The mailbox is still there, but I get distracted again by Mass on the other side of the fence. I sit with my neighbor and am nourished by the Word, by the Eucharist, by being part of the Body of Christ…by being part of something bigger than myself.
I take the long way around toward the mailbox, but am distracted again. Right across the street are opportunities to serve others. I am drawn to them. I see the look of joy on the faces of those I serve. I feel their gratitude. I listen to their stories and hear the sound of newfound hope in their voices. I find myself more and more distracted by service. It becomes immediate gratification for me.
Other distractions flood my senses, keeping me from my mailbox full of earthly things. The dotted line of my path to the mailbox showed that I veered off-course to try fasting, to participate in a bible study, to visit someone in prison, and to comfort a friend. All of these distractions!
Like Billy, I never made it to my mailbox. I was so distracted by God that I never made it.
I will leave you with three possible paths:
1. Not recommended: We can take the route that Billy took, and allow earthly things to distract us from the opportunity to get the mail – to achieve salvation.
2. We can take our chances, continuing our pursuit of earthly things, and hope that we will be distracted by God.
3. Or, the preferred option: We can heed the warnings of John the Baptist and make straight our path to salvation. We can take it seriously, and when we head to the mailbox, not allow ourselves to get distracted by the things of this earth. We can treat it like it is the last opportunity we’ll ever have to retrieve our mail, because it may be.