When I was a little kid, when I was bad, the usual punishment was “to go to the corner.” The corner was a literal corner in my bedroom where I had to sit for as long as my parents told me the punishment would last. I don’t know if my parents planned this on purpose, but the way my room was positioned at the end of the hall, I couldn’t see the TV or anything that was going on in the living room, but I could hear all the fun everyone was having without me. I remember crying for the entire time I sat in the corner, and I remember when my dad came to me to tell me that I could come out of the corner. My heart would lighten, and I would be so happy to be able to be part of the life of the family again.
I think as Christians, we can have the temptation to forget that the Gospel is good news. Either we are tempted to think of it as an ideal which is impossible to achieve because we keep sinning, or we can be tempted to see it as only something to make us feel good without any real effect on our lives. But what is the truth?
In the First Reading, we hear the famous words: “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” This comfort truly is good news, but it only comes after Isaiah has told Israel the bad news that as a result of their sins they would go into exile. They can only receive this comfort once they acknowledge their sins.
My joy in rejoining the life of the family was only possible after I had received the punishment of being in the corner and said sorry for what I had done. In the same way, we can receive the Good News only after we have acknowledged the bad news. What is the bad news? We are all sinners, and we all need salvation. But the Good News is that God became man in Jesus Christ in order to save us from our sins so that we can have eternal life with Him. And this calls forth a response from us, the response that John the Baptist proclaims: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” In other words, we are called to change our lives, to repent of our sins and to receive the salvation of Jesus.
We are also called, like John the Baptist, to proclaim this good news to others. But this is only possible if we truly believe that it is good news and have responded to it. During this Advent, we have the opportunity to receive the good news proclaimed by John the Baptist, but we can only do that if we acknowledge the bad news of our sinfulness and respond by changing our lives. Then, we don’t have to stay in the corner, but can return to the life of the family of God.