Experience amends a well-known proverb so that
honesty is not always the best policy, especially in our interpersonal relationships. I doubt there is a husband alive who
doesn’t know the right answer to his wife’s query: “Do these
jeans make me look fat?” Complete honesty in this example
would net a host of negative responses, perhaps including a
lost supper that evening.
Similarly, every wife knows what not to do on a typical Sunday afternoon in the Fall when it comes to suggesting to her husband that he help her rake the leaves when the hometown football team is playing televised football. She might not like his verbal response. And so it goes.
On the other hand, we dare not deny the necessity of honesty in any spiritual self appraisal we may undertake, much less one guided by a trusted spiritual advisor.
We come face to face this second Sunday of Advent 2019 with the man of the season: John the Baptist.
Honesty personified is he. Complete with his unusual wardrobe, fortified by his strange diet, yet striking the pose of a prophet. He has a disdain for the religious leaders of his people. In a scene ripe for cinema, he confronts the Pharisees and Sadducees, who have come to throw down the gauntlet. St. John takes the initiative. He stops the
line, stares right at the intruders, and calls them a “brood of vipers.”
Right then and there, we could say that John is never getting a dinner invitation from any Pharisee or Sadducee. John couldn’t care less. He knows they are phonies with no real interest in repentance because they believe themselves to be the truly righteous ones. John even denies their pedigree as “children of Abraham.” He knows his honest appraisal of the two groups could be the first step toward their true reform. He wants them prepared to meet the Messiah who is already in their midst and soon to appear.
As we prepare each Advent to celebrate the anniversary of our Savior’s birth among us, twinning His divinity with our humanity, we need to prepare ourselves spiritually. That starts with repentance for all those
deviant decisions we have made in the last year that amount to acts of self-worship. Another word for them is sin. No one is going to call us a “brood of vipers,” except perhaps the voice of conscience.
That’s a good thing, if we will allow ourselves to hear it above the cacophony of the American “preChristmas Christmas” of these early December days. Imagine your soul as a stable that needs cleaning. We are about to make way for the little King coming to us there. Peruse the calendar of saints and you’ll discover how nearly all of them spent their lives “cleaning up” for their ultimate home with Him.
Of course I must admit that sometimes our preparation for change is misunderstood. A fellow priest told me this one. “Ever since my brother was very young, our Mother tried to get him to clean his room or at least make his bed—usually to no avail. When he was preparing to leave home to attend college, he knew his pending departure was upsetting her, so he took the time to tidy the bed before he left. To his surprise Mom became even more emotional. “Look,” she wailed tearfully, “he’s just like a stranger already!”