Homily for Sunday, 8 December 2013
2nd Sunday of Advent: Is 11:1-10. Rom 15:4-9. Mat 3:1-12.
This Sunday has John the Baptist asking us to 'prepare the way of the Lord'.
Our Lord will end up preparing the way for us! The first reading is of Isaiah prophesizing the coming of Jesus (Jesse was the father of David in Bethlehem and St Joseph was in the long line of his descendents). In that sense, 'a shoot sprouts from the stump of Jesse' (first reading) and it bears the fruit of a surprising peace (between the lion and the lamb - between Jew and gentile - between you and whatever opposition you may have!). The second reading is of Paul, the well-educated Jew, praising the fact that Christ has united Jews and gentiles. With regard to the conversion of Advent, an important part is the conversion of one to another as brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Jesus knows well what is the road for us to eternal Life of Love and of joy. The world puts curves, divisions, obstacles and stones on the road, so John the Baptist goes before Jesus and asks us to clean-up the 'path'. We remember today the fact that God chooses 'messengers' to continue and 'to prepare the way of the Lord', and today He also chooses you and I to be messengers. He wants us to help in preparing the way for others that will prepare the way for others so that they will prepare the way for others! The descendants of Jesus will be many!
The world tempts us with elegant wealth, honors and pleasures, but they are often a trap, and God wants to free us from that. Think of mouse-traps that attract the creatures into the position in which a blade can spring and put an end to the creatures. That reflects the way this world can put traps, and Advent is a time of renovating our desire to avoid them and to renovate our fundamental option for the Love of Christ. God doesn't want us to be 'masochists' (seeking problems) but rather to be free!
People saw clearly that John was not a slave of any mundane ambition. He certainly wasn't trying to sell shampoo for the bathroom of the Jordan river! His 'wealth' was the clothes of camel hair, the food of locusts and the wild honey in the desert, and he is proclaiming a true wealth: to die to our selfishness and to be born to a life of Love. His baptism in the Jordan represents how we will all die and afterwards ascend to a completely new Life. Jesus later clarified what that ascent means. We are called today to revive our desire to be free of a selfish search for mundane wealth, honors and pleasures. That is 'the authentic wisdom' to which Isaiah is referring. Free as John, let us prepare the way to Christ - and thereby Love will be born this Christmas - in us!
I like the way John didn't look for the respect of people for himself, but he wanted to guide them to Christ. The finger pointing to Christ represents the role of the whole Church. To enter in the queue for John's baptism would need humility, and that is something that God loves. I hope my multiple sclerosis will make me more humble (less proud). We should not want to point to ourselves. St Paul says that we can be 'living letters' sent by Christ for the sake of heaven (2 Cor 3:2-3). To Hope that Christ will be born in today's human family may seem exaggerated, seeing as humanity tends to do such wrong, and we fail to fully control our own selves, but God can achieve it in us. St John of the Cross wrote this: 'How great is the work that Love does in us, because given the good and the bad that is there, He transforms everything in a single flavor!'. The sister of St Thomas Aquinas asked him what she needed to do in order to be holy, and he replied “You need to really want it!”. Do you really want it?
The important thing now is to understand that we can begin again and we can end up being 'living Christs'. We prepare the way for Christ so that he then can prepare the way for us! To quote St Irenaus: 'For this the Son of God became incarnated as a son of man: so that mankind, linked with the Word of God, would be adopted as children of God'. We were created in God's image and likeness, but we are still 'in gestation'. Because of his incarnation, our humanity can assume immortality and we can be adopted.
One may think that once one has overcome a sin, the battle with sin is finished, but Jesus says otherwise: "When a bad spirit leaves somebody, it wanders through arid regions looking for rest but when not finding it, it says, “I will return to the place from where I came". But on returning, it finds it swept and cleaned and put in order, then it invites seven other even worse spirits to live there, and that person's last condition is worse than his first one” (Lk 11:24-26). One thing is to leave the things of the world that don't help us, but another is to travel foreword towards the One who will really help us.
We are not worthy of Christ, but neither was the stable in Bethlehem and that is what God chooses! And He won't only be born in individuals but in the united human family. Paul says today that Jew and heathen have been gathered. The first reading says this: 'Then the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the leopard will rest with the boy; The calf and the young lion will work together, with a little boy to guide them' (Is 11:6)... and we will be all singing with one voice (Rm 15:5,6): Hopefully a truly Christian voice.