Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Sanity that comes with Repentance

Second Sunday of Advent Year A

In today’s gospel, we meet the person of John the Baptist. He is a strange figure – wearing a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist and his food was locusts and wild honey. Can we try to picture the way he looks? Today, we continue to see many such figures on the streets – the homeless, the ones whom we avoid because they are dirty and smelly, the ‘crazy ones.’ Today, when I look at them – these homeless beggars – I begin to wander – who’s actually crazy and who’s sane? It is society and the world which judges them insane and outcasts. This is the same society that permits wars in which thousands are killed. This is the same society that promotes discrimination and intolerance. This is the same society that legalizes the killing of innocent children that are yet to be born. So you tell me, who’s crazy?

John the Baptist was a prophet of his time. His actions and his words spoke out against the madness of the political and religious leaders of his time. His actions and words challenged people to take a closer look at their own faith lives. He prepared the way for Jesus, the coming of God’s kingdom.

John’s call to repentance is a call to total conversion. Total conversion means that we must reject any forms of prejudice, discrimination and intolerance. Many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time felt that salvation was guaranteed for them just because they were Jews, descendants of Abraham. But John reminds them that it is not blood ties that will save them but ultimately repentance and faith in the one who is to come – Jesus.

Jesus is the messiah foretold long ago. He is the promised one foretold by Isaiah in the first reading – “a shoot springs from the stock of Jesse … on him the spirit of Lord rests.” The promised one will establish the Kingdom of God with peace and justice as its pillars. But the establishment of this kingdom will not be by force. It will take place with the conversion of hearts. The kingdom of God cannot enter our hearts if we refuse to repent.

If we heed the call to repentance, we can no longer practice discrimination and have prejudice towards peoples of other races, languages, cultures and religion. We cannot pretend that we are God’s chosen people if we treat others with disrespect. Indeed, conversion and repentance calls us to be “united in mind and voice” as St. Paul tells us in the first reading. Our church is continually challenged to be “united in mind and voice”. There is no such thing as a Chinese Church, an Indian Church, an English-speaking Church, nor a Bahasa Speaking Church. The Church is made up of all peoples regardless of race, language or culture. By being united and by putting aside our prejudices, we are also following the example of John the Baptist. Through our unity, we act as prophets who speak out against the racial segregation and discrimination in Malaysian society.

In this Advent season, let us continue to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming so that at Christmas, we can truly rejoice at the birth of Christ as a community.

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