In the gospel reading, we heard John the Baptist calling people to repentance, to wash away their sins, and to prepare the way for the Lord. John the Baptist is calling us also; to get ready for something great that fills our emptiness with hope and expectation. Let us look and see what true repentance means. True repentance means honest acceptance of our sinfulness. True repentance means a turning away from sin and turning towards God. The challenge of Advent is the challenge of repentance, not because we are afraid of punishments, but because of our realization of how much God loves us. This is the best time to seek a good confession, too.

Advent is a time to renew our divine longing. It is the family prayer time around the advent wreath. It is a candle waiting for a flame, a manger waiting for a baby Jesus. It is a heart waiting for true love and forgiveness, the world waiting for its Savior. John the Baptist tells us that God’s word came to him in a whispering sound. The Prophet Isaiah also heard the same whispering sound. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths, every crooked road will be straightened, and every rough place will be smooth.”

The gospel message teaches us that when we feel our lives are going through daily trials and tribulations, we can listen to the same whispering sound coming from God. As a hospital chaplain — when I listen to patients’ stories, fears, and anxieties — I could feel that the patients hear the same whispering sound from God. The cancer survivors know the sound of the coming of God. As chemotherapy fluid drips through their veins, when radiation kills a tumor, when a caring physician says options are few, and time may be short — during these painful times — the patients hear the whispering sound from God.

However, that whispering sound tells us that neither cancer nor any other illness, even death itself, cannot ultimately defeat us. Because we prepare for Jesus’ birthday by listening carefully for God’s word, by attuning our ears to God’s words’ of hope, and having complete confidence wherever we are, especially in the wilderness places of our lives. God is still in the midst of the darkness of our lives! The advent season is a challenge for us to listen and pay attention to hear and listen to the whispering sound of God!

Moreover, while we are waiting to receive the Baby Jesus during this advent journey, we too need to do some work. The prophet Isaiah cries out and tells us to level the mountains, fill in the valleys, and straighten the roads. Prepare! However, I think the prophet Isaiah was talking about more than moving dirt. He was talking about each of us. There is work we need to do before our salvation arrives, before God is with us.

We are challenged to redraw the maps of our lives. What are the mountains? What are the barriers keeping others out? Maybe these are the rocky hills of ambition, the flat walls of anger, or the slippery hills of envy. What are the winding and crooked roads that we follow? What are the mountains of pride and ego that we have to level?

Let us try: If we have been holding grudges or hatred, or failing to be reconciled with others, now is the time for us to clear away all the garbage. Let us try: If we have been pushing God off to the side of our road, now is the time for us to get our priorities straight. So, these are the ways we can prepare the way for Jesus in our hearts and homes!