ON WHAT WE MUST DO TO PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD
Consider first, that the church, in the office appointed for this holy time, frequently puts us in mind of the mission and preaching of St. John the Baptist, and of the manner in which he endeavoured to prepare the people for Christ; to the end that we may learn, from the doctrine of this great forerunner of our Lord, in what dispositions we ought also to be if we would duly prepare the way for him. Now what the Baptist continually preached to the people was; that they should turn from their evil ways, and do penance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand; that they should bring forth fruits worthy of penance, if they would escape the wrath to come – and this without delay – for that now the axe was laid at the root of the tree, and that every tree that did not bring forth good fruit should be cut up and cast into the fire. That they should not flatter themselves with the expectation of impunity or security, because they had Abraham for their father; for that God was able to raise up from the very stones children to Abraham; and therefore without a thorough conversion from their sins, they were to expect that the kingdom of God, and the grace and dignity of being children of Abraham, (the father of all the faithful,) should be taken away from them and given to the Gentiles. He added, that he baptized them indeed with water unto penance; but that another should come after him that should ‘baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire; that his fan was in his hand, and that he should thoroughly cleanse his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he would burn with unquenchable fire,’ Matt. iii. This was the way St. John prepared the people for Christ; and it is by conforming ourselves in practice to these his lessons, at this holy time, that we must also prepare the way of the Lord, and be prepared for him.
Consider 2ndly, that the great theme of the preaching of St. John, in order to prepare the way of the Lord, was the virtue of penance; inasmuch as this was the only means by which sinners could ever effectually be reconciled to God, after actual mortal sin; and therefore this theme was at all times perpetually inculcated by all that were ever sent with commission from God to reclaim unhappy souls that had gone astray from him. It is then by this virtue of penance we also are to prepare the way of the Lord, at this holy time; this is the proper devotion for the time of Advent. Now this virtue of penance, (which always was, always is, and always will be, absolutely and indispensably necessary for the bringing back sinners to God,) implies three things: first, the renouncing and destroying of all our sins, by which we have offended so good a God; secondly, a turning of ourselves to God with our whole heart, and a dedicating ourselves henceforward to him both for time and eternity; and thirdly, an offering of ourselves to him, to make him what satisfaction we can for our past offences, by a penitential life. Christians, this is our great business at this holy time, if we hope to prepare ourselves for Christ; this is the proper exercise for it – to pass over in our mind, in the bitterness of our soul, all our years that have been spent in sin; to bewail and lament every day of this holy season, all our past treasons against the divine majesty; to turn now to God with our whole heart; to offer our whole souls to him; to exercise ourselves in his love, and to enter into new articles with him of an eternal allegiance, with a full determination of rather dying than being any more disloyal to him; and letting not one day pass without offering him some penitential satisfaction for our past guilt, to be united to, and sanctified by the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. O! how happy are they that employ the time of Advent in this manner! O! how willingly will our Lord, at the approaching Christmas, communicate himself to such souls as these.
Consider 3rdly, that at the approaching solemnity of Christmas, the church, by thrice celebrating the sacred mysteries on the same day, commemorates three different births of Christ: his eternal birth from his father; his temporal birth from his mother; and his spiritual birth by which he is born by grace in our souls. Hence the best devotion for the time of Christmas, is that which conduces the most to bring Christ into our souls by this spiritual birth; and consequently the best devotion for the time of Advent is to cleanse and to purify our souls, that he may find nothing in them that may disqualify them for his visits, or hinder him from coming to be spiritually born in us. For he will never come into an unclean soul, nor be born in a mansion where Satan resides. See then, my soul, what measures thou art to take, at this holy time, to prepare thy Inward house for the spiritual birth of this king of glory: 1. Thou must cleanse and purify it from sin and Satan; 2. Thou must adorn it with virtue and piety; and 3. Thou must daily invite thy Lord thither by fervent prayer; thus shalt thou prepare the way of the Lord in the manner that is best pleasing to him.
Conclude to put in practice all these lessons to the best of thy power, at this holy time: an Advent spent in this manner, in devotion and penance, cannot fail of bringing thee a happy Christmas.