"Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2)

Today, the liturgy points us towards a strange and rather austere figure, John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is uniquely situated between the Old and New Testament. The precursor and cousin of Jesus, he is like a star who heralds the rising of the morning sun, who is Jesus Christ.

His mission was to prepare and clear the way for the Lord, calling the people of Israel to repent of their sins and to correct every injustice. 

John the Baptist never minced his words: "Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). Above all, John put people on guard against the hypocrisy of those who felt safe merely because they belonged to the Chosen People.

In God's eyes, John argues, no one has reason to boast but must bear "fruit that befits repentance."

While the Advent journey continues, John the Baptist's appeal for conversion rings out in our lives and in our communities. It is a pressing invitation to open our hearts to receive Jesus. It is today, in the present, that our future destiny is being played out. At the end of our days, we will be evaluated on the basis of our likeness--or lack of it--to the child whose birth we're about to experience.

He himself is the full measure that God has given to humanity.

John the Baptist continues to speak down the centuries to every generation. His clear and harsh words are particularly beneficial for us, modern men and women, as we struggle to cope with a holiday spirit that at times is more immersed in what Francis calls the "throwaway culture" than in the true meaning of Christmas.

John the Baptist asks us to "prepare the way of the Lord!" This famous Advent call can animate us in all walks of life, from how we treat the stranger who approaches us on the street to how we respond to the spouse or friend who is constantly interrupting us.

John the Baptist is encouraging us to be interrupted--and perhaps annoyed--by Jesus. His unexpected visit into our lives is a great invitation into God's new dynamic of love.

Let this response be our prayer today: Maranatha, come Lord Jesus: God's great Advent of Love!

The desert lands shall burst and blossom,
All of creation shall ring out in song!
The one foretold is in our midst,
By the hand of God we are delivered,
saved from all our woes.