Second Sunday of Advent B
It seems that every so often a new fad diet goes around.
In recent years, lots of folks have been trying
the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet—
everybody going low-carb or even no-carb.
Stretch back a bit and some might remember the Grapefruit Diet.
One that never caught on too widely
was the Cabbage Soup Diet.
You can surely understand why…
Here’s another diet that’s a hard sell:
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
That’s the John the Baptist Diet, of course.
But he wasn’t marketing a weight loss plan,
so why the odd menu?
Let’s start with those locusts.
Where else do these insects—
and their other grass-hopping cousins—
show up in the Bible?
Well, we find them in the Book of Leviticus
on a list of kosher foods. (11:21-22)
Yup—seems that John the Baptist
wasn’t the only one eating bugs!
But we most famously find locusts in Exodus:
the eighth of the ten plagues God’s visited
upon Pharaoh and the land of Egypt. (10:1ff)
The locusts descended so thick that they covered the ground,
eating up whatever crops were left
after the seventh plague of hail. (cf. Psalm 105:34-35)
In the Scriptures,
locusts are an instrument of the Lord’s judgment;
they’re a not-so-subtle reminder of the need to change your ways.
How about honey?
It seems that every time
God speaks to his people about the Promised Land,
he describes it as “flowing with milk and honey.” (cf. Ex 3:8, Deut 6:3)
Honey is gathered when a people
are settled, secure, and prosperous.
Thus honey is a symbol of peace and plenty:
the comfort and consolation which God promises
to those who walk in his ways. (cf. Magnificat, 12/2011)
John’s unusual diet plan, then,
is one meant more for our souls then for our stomachs.
We have a hankering for spiritual honey.
When things turn sour,
we turn to God asking for something sweet.
Lord, let us see you kindness,
pretty well sums up the majority of our prayers.
Comfort, the Lord says to Isaiah,
give comfort to my people;
speak to them tenderly.
Doesn’t that sound good?
We’re rather taken with this idea
that God is there to reassure and soothe us—and he is.
But left on its own, this can lead to the lopsided notion
of spirituality as a sort of relaxing spa treatment
or a comforting diet which lets us continue
to eat anything and everything we want—
no calories, no consequences.
Yet notice how Isaiah lays out the path
which leads to this land of milk and honey:
Make straight a highway in the desert;
fill in all the valleys;
level the mountains and bring low hills.
This is not a gentle, soothing pastime;
it’s a job, rather,
which calls for a bulldozer. (cf. A. Giambrone)
Instead of comfort food and a massage,
this is a spirituality
of heavy-duty construction.
Thus the Messiah’s final messenger arrives on the scene
wearing camel’s hair and dining on grasshoppers to teach us:
if we want to taste the honey’s sweetness,
then we must first face the locusts;
if we want to truly enjoy the good things God promises,
then we must first submit ourselves—
submit our way of thinking and our way of life—
to God’s judgment.
We can’t reasonably expect the Lord and his glory to get though
if we’ve put up roadblocks and left obstacles in his way.
Not a fad in the least,
Christ has given us a tried and true menu on which to feed our souls:
the menu of the Mass, of his Body and Blood.
John the Baptist’s unusual diet of locusts and honey is an apt reminder
that we need to be properly prepared
to even approach the Lord’s table,
leave alone profit to the full from the nourishment it provides.
Once upon a time—not really all that long ago—
every single Catholic who intended to go to Holy Communion
would first go to confession.
That—admittedly—may have been a bit excessive.
But nowadays, the vast majority of Catholics
come to Communion Sunday after Sunday,
but never, ever confess their sins.
Now, I’d like to think that’s because
people just sin a lot less in the twenty-first century.
Yet what we’ve lost is not our sinfulness,
but our willingness to face and acknowledge it.
And if we’ve lost our sense of sin,
then the coming of One to save us from our sins
becomes really rather meaningless. (cf. M. Casey)
Unrepented, serious sin is a road-blocking obstacle
to the spiritual nutrition God has prepared for us in the Eucharist.
When was last time I openly, honestly examined my conscience?
How long has it been since I received the Sacrament of Penance?
And just what am I waiting for?
John’s urgent message of repentance
is echoed by Saint Peter.
God is immensely patient with us, he writes.
And God has promised a new heavens and a new earth.
But since this world will pass away with a mighty roar
and be dissolved in flames,
what sort of persons ought we to be while we’re waiting?
We are to be holy people, devout people—Peter tells us—
people eager to be found without spot or blemish,
people at peace.
We are to be a people who find the courage
to straighten out what is crooked,
to level our excuses and flatten our pride,
to fill in our valleys of idleness and unbelief. (cf. A. Löhr)
We are to be a people who prepare
an unobstructed way for the Lord into our hearts.
Locusts and wild honey.
Judgment that opens us to joy.
Conversion that paves the way for comfort.
That’s a well-balanced diet for Advent, and always.