Sunday, December 07, 2008

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)
Cleaning the Coffee Machine

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8
Picture: CC psd

My sisters and brothers, do you like coffee? I know many people do. Isn’t it a great feeling, when you find yourself stumbling sleepily, reluctantly, out of a warm bed, early in the morning, to have your senses pleasantly jolted awake by the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee? Have you ever felt that way? Or maybe it’s the middle of what is turning out to be a long and tiring day. There’s still much more to do, but already, you find your concentration drifting, your eyelids drooping. Again, isn’t it such a relief, isn’t it such a comfort, to be rescued from drowsiness by a steaming cup of coffee? Have you ever had a similar experience?

And yet, sisters and brothers, as much as many of us might enjoy our precious cup of joe, how many of us actually like to be the one to prepare it? I didn’t think so. As consoling as it is to be greeted by freshly brewed coffee, it’s often difficult to find the motivation to make it, especially if it’s the first pot of the day – that usually involves having to be the first one out of bed. And then, of course, you can’t make coffee without first cleaning out the coffee machine. Not only do you have to empty the coffee pot and wash it, you also have to throw out the used filter along with the damp and tired coffee grains contained in it. Not a very pleasant thing to do. Is it any wonder that Starbucks is still doing a roaring business even in the midst of a recession?

Still, whether we like it or not, it remains true that you can’t enjoy the consolation of coffee unless there’s someone willing to prepare it. And you can’t make a fresh batch of coffee without first cleaning out the coffee machine. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if someone were to try to make coffee using an un-cleaned machine – with some of the old coffee still in the pot, and the used grains in the filter? No, we all know this well: when it comes to coffee, the consolation comes only after the cleaning.

And the same principle applies in the spiritual life as well. Isn’t this what our Mass readings are reminding us? Isn’t this what the voice crying out in the desert is saying to us? Notice how all three readings today offer us the assurance that a great consolation is coming. In the first reading, we find this in the moving image of the shepherd, feeding his hungry flock, and tenderly gathering the weak and defenseless lambs into the warmth and security of his powerful but gentle arms. In the gospel, John the Baptist takes the place of the voice crying in the desert. And the One who is mightier than John fills the shoes of the shepherd. Just as in the first reading the shepherd comforts his sheep, so here in the gospel, we’re told that this mighty One who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that we received at our baptism. This is the Spirit who comforts the afflicted and nourishes the starving, who enlightens the ignorant and strengthens those who are weak. In the second reading too, we hear the wonderful news that the coming day of God will bring with it new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, a situation where there will be no more suffering and no more pain, no more lives devastated by recessions and no more homes destroyed by wildfires, where the hungry will be fed, the lonely cared for, and every tear will be wiped away.

This then is the awesome consolation that our readings speak to us about on this second Sunday of Advent. And, like the smell of freshly brewed coffee, this is a message that brings us comfort in our troubles, consolation in our distress. This is the same Good News that we are preparing ourselves to receive more deeply during this season of Advent. And even as we listen to this message, do we not find our hearts being moved? Do we not experience our lips beginning to mouth the words of today’s psalm response? If this is indeed what the Lord’s coming will bring, then Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation!

But that is not all that the voice in the desert speaks to us about. For in order to welcome the One who is coming and the consolation that He brings, there is something that needs to be done. As it is with coffee, so too is it with the Coming of the Lord. Before the consolation there must first be a cleansing. The first reading speaks of this in terms of valleys being filled in and mountains being leveled, so that a straight road might be paved for the One who is coming.

What does this mean for us today? What might it mean to level mountains, to fill in valleys, and to build roads? During this difficult time of economic recession, when there is much talk about financial bailouts, perhaps road building might have something to do with examining and correcting the way in which financial institutions have been doing business up till now. Perhaps it has something to do with taking initial steps at reforming the way in which Wall Street, and indeed the whole global economy, operates. Perhaps it also has something to do with getting rid of those attitudes and actions that caused the death of 34 year-old Jdimytai Damour, in the stampede at a Long Island Walmart on Black Friday. We can’t make fresh coffee without first cleaning out the coffee machine.

But the machine that needs cleaning is not just in the world outside. It is also within us. We, who have already been baptized in the Holy Spirit, are called, each in our own way, to be voices crying out in the desert, brewers of fresh coffee for a drowsy world. And, to do this, doesn’t each of us need to examine the coffee machine that is our own spiritual life? Changes in the world require prior changes within each of our hearts. Like the people of the Judean countryside, who flocked to John in response to his preaching of repentance, we too are invited to allow the mountains of our sinful habits to be leveled, and the valleys of our selfish attitudes to be filled in. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. We cannot enjoy and share the fresh coffee of Christ’s coming without first cleaning out the tired coffee grains and the used filters of our hearts.

And for this to happen, we need the Lord’s help. Isn’t this why, in our opening prayer just now, we asked God to remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy? We – you and I – need the Lord to show us the sinful tendencies within us that need to be reformed. Perhaps it is a hurt or a grudge that we haven’t quite been able to get over, or a prejudice that we have only been vaguely aware of till now. Perhaps it’s the tendency to live beyond our means, or to desire to keep up with the Jonses. Whatever it may be, the season of Advent is a golden opportunity for us, as individuals and as a community, to pray for and to receive the grace to clean out our hearts and our lives so that we can not only receive God’s consolation, but also share it with a waiting world.

On this second Sunday of Advent, a voice cries out in the desert: prepare for the Consolation that is coming.

But, my dear sisters and brothers, how ready are we to clean out the coffee machine?


  1. I hate coffee... so I don't have to clean any coffee machines? Okie, I like fruit juices, so I'll think of cleaning a juicer then.

    Last week, a friend and I sat by a lake in Botanic Gardens as we prayed over the Second Advent Sunday readings in the booklet prepared by the SPI for the whole diocese.

    The part that struck me most was this text from a Vatican II document: "The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor and afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts."

    At the end of the session, we ended with "I hope..." Both she and I realized that there are certain aspects of ourselves that we need to pray for and work harder on. It's a beautiful and meaningful way of preparing for each Sunday and eventually Christmas.

    Looking forward to the next session now...

  2. Welcome back, Fr Chris! You were missed. The email that points me to each of your reflections is like my kitchen timer, ringing to remind me to do my own daily reading and reflection. You help me clean my coffee machine.

    I should not need reminders because the slow slide in my inner self, the nagging feeling of slipping further from God, the taste of stale coffee, should be reminders enough. And writing these comments also helps in my reflections.


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