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Second Week of Advent

Mt. 3:1-12

Nelson Mandela died in 2013. At one time he was regarded as a terrorist but he become President of South Africa. After 27 years in prison he fought tirelessly to attain equality for every person regardless of their colour or faith. But what impressed me most about this great man was his spirit of peace and reconciliation in the later years of his life.

After a long spell in prison he came out without a word of bitterness or hostility towards those who had imprisoned him. He had learnt the meaning of the beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” and, in my eyes, that is where his greatness lay.

He expressed the hopes of the human race. People of all nations have always dreamed of a better world in which everyone can live in peace. We are sick of the insanity of war, exhausted by man's inhumanity to man, tired of violence and injustice, and long for a world in which people and nations settle their differences through cooperation instead of conflict. Some people have stopped believing that such a world is even possible. Many of us feel helpless to do anything about it because the problems are too great - all we can do, it seems, is wait and hope.

Today's Gospel reading has a message for that very mood. It proclaims the imminent arrival of the reign of God. The messenger was John the Baptist who suddenly appeared in the desert of Judea, telling the people, “Reform your lives. The reign of God is at hand.” His sermon was short and simple, but it contained a logical sequence. First, better people and, then, a better world. How else could it happen? So the message of our reading is plain and direct: if you want a better world, then start with yourself – and reform your own life.

John is reminding us that the first responsibility of every person is himself or herself. In other words, my primary mission in life is to become the best 'me' that I possibly can. And yours is the same. Until we tackle the challenge of ourselves, we are ill-equipped to tackle the many challenges of society. It is sheer hypocrisy to think that we can change the world unless, first of all, we are willing to change our own lives.

Our Scripture reading tells of certain men who heard John preaching, felt the excitement in the air and decided to jump on the bandwagon. But he detected their insincerity and challenged them, "You brood of vipers, give some evidence that you intend to reform." That message is intended for you and me.

He is also reminding us that all the moral problems of the world are the moral failures of people. If we live in a cruel, greedy and violent world, it is only because there are cruel, greedy and violent people. The world does not pollute its own air and water. People do. Nor fight senseless wars or cause poverty, nor foster prejudice and hatred. People do. You and I are not the pawns of some kind of impersonal fate. The problems of this world have a cause. And each of us must shoulder our part of the blame.

Lord Jesus, we say we want a better world. In some vague sense, we expect a better world. But while waiting we should embrace what Saint John the Baptist said centuries ago, "Reform your lives. The reign of God is at hand."

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