(The Entrance Antiphon and Collect)
The entrance antiphon, the verse of scripture sung, chanted or even read at the beginning of the Mass, sets the tone of the message the Church asks us to meditate on. “..behold the Lord will come to save the nations, and the Lord will make the glory of his voice hear, in the joy of your heart”
He will come to save the nations. That is something very public – it affects the whole structure of society, the way we conduct our affairs. By calling upon the Lord who will “save the nations”, we are asked to reflect on what our nation needs to be saved from. Only in our arrogance would be maintain that our system of government, our laws and our way of life have been perfected to the point that we do not need God. We are not speaking about what is commonly called, the “separation of church and state”. Instead, we must reflect on how far our nation is willing to abandon the principal, that religious faith and spiritual values should be protected, because they do in fact contribute to the common good of our nation. Our public prayer, during this Holy Season of Advent, wedded to the cries of the prophet Isaiah, cannot ignore that our various values and society at large is in need of salvation.
At that same time, the Entrance Antiphon reminds us, that God will save us all, not simply in a forced destruction of what displeases him. We are told, “the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of your heart”. Here is where the Advent of God begins, in our heart, in our own conversion – in our ability, even in the darkness, to recognize his voice. And even though we may at times feel as if our hands are tied, our mouth is gagged and our eyes are blindfolded, “if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts”!
This is how we prepare for the Lord to come and “save the nations”. It begins with a truthful examination of our own conscience and attitudes in the light of the teachings of Christ’s holy Church, what the Collect prayer might call the, ”learning of heavenly wisdom” (cf. CCC 1798). To help us to get our own household in order, the Church’s liturgy offers us the guidance of St. John the Baptist.
St. John the Baptist is given to us as an interior designer! We bring him in as a consultant to help us make a place ready for the King of Kings when he arrives into our home. What does John say when he inspects our interiors? Pointing to this and that, he might say, “this has to go. And, you need to take this down and throw this out. While you are at it, you need to rip this out too. This has to change. You have to update this, replace this and redesign this. You need new wallpaper and a fresh lick of paint, you need better lighting and this here has to be brought up to code. Oh, and here’s how much it will cost!!” It’s easier to judge our society and the state of our nation and the spirit of our elected bodies than it is to assess the state of the union between our own body and soul.
The description of John the Baptist, living in the desert, clothed in animal skins, living on locusts and wild honey might seem at first extreme – in comparisons to our own standards of living. (St. John Chrysostom here allows us to reflect the depiction.) But if we allow the eyes of our soul to see through the dust, St. John the Baptist becomes strangely symbolic of what humanity will be restored back to, with advent of Christ.
In a way, like Adam and Eve before their fall, John does not till or plough the earth, or from the sweat of his brow, he does not work for his food. It is easily sought and prepared. “From his garments he might teach us that we free ourselves of human needs, and need not be bound to this earth, but that we may return to the pristine dignity in which Adam first lived, before he had need of garments or of clothing.” This might be what our Collect Prayer alludes to when we pray that no earthly undertaking will hinder us from setting out in hast to meet Christ.
The Gospel message does not push us or force us onto a pathway that takes us to God. As with Abraham, Moses and the Chosen People, God points us, guides and gently moves us without force or coercion, helping us to leave behind the sins that weigh us down and to find the right path and to help us make it straight, so that it will ultimately lead us out of the desert wastelands on a journey that will purify our mind, body and soul so as to look upon the face of God. May this sacred liturgy that we now celebrate give us a taste of our journey’s end and sense of the beginning of eternity Christ invites us into.