Advent is a penitential season, or at least it used to be. Thus the inclusion of the gospel pericope for this Sunday, the Second Sunday in Advent. Here's a story:
In October, 1989, the city of San Francisco was struck by a powerful earthquake. Huge cracks appeared in the walls of Candlestick Park, where thousands of fans were waiting to watch the third game of the World Series. Sections of freeway twisted and buckled; some collapsed. At least twenty-seven fires broke out across the city; the largest, in the Marina District, consumed dozens of buildings.
At the edge of the Marina District, a crowd of curiosity-seekers gathered, watching the firefighters as they battled the flames. After a few minutes of this, a police officer came up to the crowd and began shouting at them. “What have you come to look at?” he said to them. “This is no time to be standing around. There’s been an earthquake. You all have work to do! Go home. Fill your bathtubs with water (if you still have water). Prepare yourselves to live for the next several days without electricity. The sun’s going to set in another hour; your time is running out. The firefighters will do their job here: now you go home and do yours!”
That police officer spoke truth, as John the Baptist spoke truth. He spoke with urgency, as John the Baptist spoke with urgency. His message, like John’s, was what the people truly needed to hear.
What’s the message we most need to hear, in these ever-shortening days of Advent? Is it a message of spending and partying and conspicuous consumption? Or is it a message of repentance and forgiveness and faithfulness?