Sunday Sermon for December 4, 2011, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

In the first reading we are told by St. Peter that we are to be without spot or blemish before the Lord as we await His return. These are the same characteristics St. Paul mentions in his Letter to the Ephesians regarding marriage and the Church. If we are honest we have to admit that we are a long way from being without spot or blemish. For this reason we have to be purified and made holy.

Unfortunately for us, being purified is neither quick nor fun. In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah tells us that we are to prepare a way for the Lord in the desert and to make a highway in the wasteland. We see St. John the Baptist doing this in a literal manner in the Gospel reading, but for most of us, it probably will not be so literal.

God has an infinite imagination and He works with each of us according to our own personalities and according to our own circumstances in life. For instance, two people may be raised in the same family, but their life experiences outside of the family may be very different. Even within the family, if one person is very sensitive and another is not, they will experience the same events in ways that are completely divergent from one another.

For this reason God works with us individually. What may be a severe purification for one person may be very light for another. Therefore, God will do what is truly the best for each one of us. Of course, when He does this we do not normally like it very well because He works on the areas of our weakness whereas we would prefer that He would work on our strengths. If we just think objectively for a moment we will understand in logic of addressing the weaknesses, but when we think only of ourselves we tend to fight what God is trying to do.

All we need to do is think about the number of Saints we read about in Scripture who either came from desert areas or went out to the desert to be purified and formed. Every single Prophet with the lone exception of Jonah came from desert areas. Do you think there is a reason God chose people from places that are harsh? All we have to do is think of what happened to Jonah to realize that there is a clear pattern: all of the other Prophets we faithful to God and the one Prophet who was not was the one who did not come from the desert.

What did God do with Jonah? He set him outside of Nineveh and gave him an experience of the desert. Of course, we can also recall how well Jonah handled that experience; probably as well as we would. He whined and complained because it was hot and because things did not go the way he wanted them to go.

St. John the Baptist came from an area outside of Jerusalem that was not a desert, but from a young age God put him in the desert so that he could learn necessary lessons that can be learned only in the desert. We do not know how things went for him at the beginning of his time in the desert (he probably did not whine and complain) but we do see him being introduced to the world as one who lives in the desert, eats grasshoppers and honey and is completely devoted to seeking and teaching the will of God. In the desert he learned to rely solely on God and, we could say, he became purified to the point where he was without spot or blemish.

We might think that it makes sense for someone whose vocation is as critical as St. John the Baptist. However, we need also to remind ourselves that our Lord went out to the desert before He began His public ministry. We could come back with the same reasoning that it makes sense for Him because of what He had to do. While this is true, we need to remember that St. Peter was not talking about great Saints with extraordinary vocations, he was talking to average, ordinary people like you and me.

Therefore we need to pray and ask the Lord to purify us, but then we need to do our best to cooperate with Him as He purifies us. It is unlikely that we will have to physically go out into the desert, but God can bring the desert to us in a myriad number of ways. So, whether you run into some difficulties in your life personally or things become chaotic around you, try to see everything as coming from God to make you holy, without spot or blemish before Him.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit