[COLUMN] Advent: A call to conversion 

The overarching message of Advent is one of hope. However, hope can only emerge through the commitment and willingness of individuals to change their ways, to undergo a deeper conversion of the heart that enables them to embrace generosity, love, and forgiveness.

Therefore, a significant theme of Advent is the conversion of hearts. This conversion entails viewing the arrival of something new with excitement and joy — a new way of life, a new expression of being a part of the Church, a new understanding of what it means to be a Christian, priest, or minister. Conversion is focused on encountering the One who is coming, wherein sins are forgiven, and a people who have been affected by their wrongdoing are made new again. It signifies new life, fresh perspectives, and the emergence of new possibilities and opportunities.

The First Reading from the Book of Isaiah portrays God speaking about the need to comfort His people, describing forthcoming developments as if they are already taking place in the present moment. He calls upon them to imagine the things that are yet to come — to live as if they are already saved, to live in anticipation of the promises. With the human imagination sparked by the assurance of the God,  we can grasp the future becoming a reality in the present.

God invites His people to envision valleys being filled, mountains and hills being leveled, rugged lands being made smooth, and rough territories being broadened. Those involved in the restoration of these highways and challenging terrains are urged to act as if the restoration has already begun. They are to herald the processions of victorious kings into the city, even though they themselves have not yet witnessed such events. What they possess is the word of the prophet, whose message asserts that future occurrences are already accomplished in the present.

This notion is exemplified in the Gospel of this Sunday (December 10), where John the Baptist baptized throngs of people in the Jordan River, proclaiming, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” John demonstrates the anticipation of something greater, even as he partakes in baptism, knowing that he plays a role in preparing the way for the one who is to come.

The call to conversion and its promise have profound implications for us in the present day. It encourages us to maintain a positive outlook and to envision the opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead, even in the midst of challenging circumstances. It reminds us that hope can emerge with renewed vigor, even when faced with what may seem like impossible situations.

Pope Francis, in his book “Let us Dream,” echoes this message of hope specifically in the context of the pandemic. He highlights that from this crisis, we have the potential to either regress or to create something new. It is an invitation to change, to make room for the emergence of new ideas, new ways of living, and new solutions. Pope Francis references the words of God to Isaiah, emphasizing the importance of being open to dialogue and ready to listen in order to forge a great future. He cautions that refusing to listen and change may lead to negative consequences.

Therefore, the call to conversion of hearts holds the promise of joy and peace. By examining our inner selves and making necessary changes, we can remove the rough edges from our hearts and minds, creating space to welcome Jesus, who is heralded as the Prince of Peace. This conversion allows us to align our lives more closely with the teachings of Christ, embracing love, forgiveness, and generosity. Through this transformation, we can experience a deep sense of joy and inner peace, not only during Advent but throughout our journey as Christians..

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Fr. Rodel “Odey” Balagtas is the pastor of Incarnation Church in Glendale, California.


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