While obviously I do not have children, I know how protective I am of my nieces and nephews, especially when they were very young. I can only imagine the worrying that you parents do over your children.
Keeping your children safe has to be one of parents’ primary concerns. Parents use child safety locks, car seats, baby gates, helmets, and I have even seen parents using leases to keep their children safe. As children grow, the dangers they face in this world are so great that many parents wish they could wrap their children in bubble wrap to keep them safe from all the potential hurt and danger that children, teenagers, and young adults often confront.
Today’s first reading talks about a young child guiding a lion, a baby playing by a cobra’s den, and a child placing their hand on a snake’s lair. It sounds like a tragic news story in the making! However, God assures us that, one day, even these things will be harmless. Pain and harm will be no more, because the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Knowing God – truly knowing Him – changes everything about a person. Knowing God in the way that the Bible means, is to surrender oneself to God; to make a total conversion of all aspects of one’s life. Imagine a day when everyone in the world has dedicated themselves to knowing, loving, and serving the one true God of heaven and earth. That day will come. Christ ushered it in when He took on our humanity, lived, died, rose, and ascended into heaven for our salvation. That day is coming. It is what we long for. It is what we hope for. It is what we live for. Come, Lord Jesus!
While it is true that salvation is a gift given to us by God, we still need to cooperate with the grace of our salvation. First, this means accepting the gift. We accept the gift by allowing the gift to transform us. We should live, move and having our being in a different way now that we are saved. It is not enough to just “talk the talk.” We also have to “walk the walk.”
This is what St. John the Baptist was talking about in today’s Gospel reading when he reproaches the Sadducees and Pharisees who come to him for baptism. I am named after St. John the Baptist, so I have always felt an attraction to him, but I don’t think I could get away with calling people a “brood of vipers” like he does in today’s Gospel. He tells the Pharisees and Sadduccees to “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” In other words, “show that you walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.”
Imagine if the deacons and I demanded proof from parents who ask to have their babies baptized that they are practicing their faith and are going to raise their children in the Faith. How many would be able to provide proof? Many of us consider ourselves stereotypical “good Catholics,” but how is that bearing itself out in our lives? What “good fruit” do we have to show for it? Do we go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, or just when it is convenient? Do we put the Word of God that we hear at Mass into action. Are we welcoming to people, even the stranger? Do we recognize the needs in our community – perhaps homelessness, people in need of food, rent assistance, or addicted to drugs – and then stand up to do something to address these problems? Or do we, like Scrooge, say “well, that is why we pay taxes,” and think we don’t need to get involved?
Advent is a time when we should be asking ourselves how we can bear more good fruit for Jesus. Here is a suggestion of an activity you can do with your family to help focus on the meaning of Advent. Set up a nativity set within reach of your children (if your kids are very young, get a kids’ friendly nativity and keep the nice china one up out of reach). Then keep a small pile of hay, or strips of yellow construction paper, nearby for the children – and Mom and Dad – to add to the manger to get it ready to keep baby Jesus warm. Every time the child – and Mom and Dad – perform a good deed, or makes a sacrifice of some kind, or says an extra prayer, they can add a piece of hay. This reminds everyone in the household that during Advent we make an extra effort to make our hearts and our homes a little bit warmer and welcoming for Jesus.
So let’s get stuffing those mangers by both talking the talk and walking the walk. Baby Jesus is waiting to be born in our hearts, and together we can all bear good fruit.