Heeding the Messengers
A story I’ve heard more than once is of a man who died in a flood.
The storm was predicted, but the man decided to wait in his house and ignored the weather warning.
The police came buy and urged him to leave before it got too bad, but he said no, I will be fine, God will see me through the storm.
The flood waters came and grew higher, and a boat came by in front of his home, with the people offering to give him a ride to safety. Again, his response was no, God will provide.
As the storm grew worse and the flood enveloped his home, he climbed to the roof, and a helicopter arrived. But again, the man ignored the pilot and said God would rescue him from the flood.
The man eventually died in the flood, and stood before God. He demanded, “why didn’t you rescue me?” God’s response was I sent you a police officer, a boat and a helicopter!
Indeed, God doesn’t just go showing up telling us what to do every day. But He does guide us in many ways. The question for us is do we listen?
This weekend in our Gospel we meet the messenger John the Baptist. He is preparing the way for the Lord’s arrival. John’s lifestyle and preaching inspire people to follow him and to respond by being baptized. His message was to prepare for the one who would be greater than him.
People listened to his message, and would then try to incorporate it by changing their lifestyle. The baptism he offered was a cleansing ritual, symbolizing the old life being cleansed and a new life beginning as a person went about in a new direction. People recognized his holiness. Even the man who executed him, Herod, recognized that John was holy when John had called him out for adultery.
Herod of course did not listen to John or change, but we have the opportunity to do so. The challenge for us is do we listen?
Advent is a time of joyful waiting. A time of thinking about how we need God in our lives, and of how we can prepare to welcome our Savior better as people who profess to be Christian.
The first step is to listen to God. God can speak very loudly in the silence, and when we pray, when we meditate, or just spend time in silence we can get direction from God. I remember prior to entering seminary, before going to an informational dinner with the archbishop, I went to pray at the cathedral near the statue of the Sacred Heart. I felt this overwhelming sense of calm and peace, and it was one of my first steps on the road to ordination. God is speaking to us all the time, we just need to listen.
We also listen to our conscience. In our noisy, go-go-go world, it’s so important to make time for some silence and introspection, for God also speaks to us through our consciences. Maybe we’ll find now is the time to take some steps at overcoming a particular sin for good; to re-connect with someone; to take a look at how we treat others; or to make a change in our physical, spiritual or mental health for the better. Our consciences are not there to shame us but to help us reach our full potential, but it takes listening to them for this to happen.
But we also must listen to other people. It’s worth asking ourselves who is the John the Baptist in my life? If we are going to grow spiritually, it’s important to ask for directions to heaven. People fill our lives to help us. And it’s important to ask them what they think and for guidance. Whether it’s a decision with our kids, a job, or something with respect to our battle with various sins, people are there to help us. Sometimes we can’t bring ourselves to ask for advice. And it may happen that someone comes to us and expresses a concern about us. It can be tough to hear when someone talks to us about our health, a drinking problem, temperament or other behaviors – but we need to overcome defensiveness and listen to what they have to say. Maybe we are like the man in the house and the floodwaters our the sins we battle with or life’s problems, and God keeps sending us lifelines but we are too proud or stubborn to take them.
Life can be overwhelming at times. But the good news is God did not just come many years ago and leave us. He is so very much alive and speaks to us in so many ways. Let’s make sure we listen to him and the many messengers he sends us to help us on our journey through life.
God bless, ~Fr. Paul
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