05 December 2010

Homily - 5 December 2010

The Second Sunday of Advent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In these days of Advent, Holy Mother Church makes use of the color violet – which we often call purple – not because the season of Advent is necessarily marked by a penitential character, but because we await with eager anticipation the coming of Christ our King.

Our hearts are joyful because on that day of his coming, “not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide” and “his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:3, 10).

Justice shall indeed flourish in his days because he is himself the Sun of Justice, the Radiant Dawn to whom we look (cf. Malachi 3:20). In his light there is no darkness at all and in his light all things will be revealed (cf. I John 1:5).

If we wish, then, to enter into his glorious dwelling, to be forever with the Lord, to bask in the splendor of his light, then we must heed the words of the prophets Isaiah and Saint John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3).

We prepare his way when we repent, when we turn from our sins and toward Christ. Indeed, this is the very message of the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2)! The word repent, in the Greek of the New Testament, is a word that means “to change one’s mind or perspective.” John, then, “is calling for a complete change in thinking and conduct – [a] decisive, fundamental change of direction in one’s life" (Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010], 62).

The people responded in great numbers to John’s call to a complete turnaround in life because they recognized him not simply as a prophet, but as the prophet – indeed, the last of the prophets - who heralded the coming of God himself. Of John the prophet Isaiah foretold long ago, in that passage gloriously rendered in Handel’s Messiah: “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah: ‘Behold your God’” (Isaiah 40:9)!

Even in the Baptist’s clothing the people recognized that the great prophet had come. The powerful prophet Elijah “wore a garment of haircloth, with a belt of leather about his waist” (II Kings 1:8). The Lord God revealed through his prophet Malachi, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). Seeing John and hearing his voice, the people knew something wondrous was soon to occur.

The preaching of John, then, at the River Jordan, where the Lord healed Naaman of his leprosy (cf. II Kings 5:1-4); where Elijah was taken up to heaven in the fiery chariot (cf. II Kings 2:1-11); and through which the Lord led his people after their wandering of forty years into the Promised Land (cf. Joshua 3:1-17). Later in his ministry, Jesus made the connection between John the Baptist and the return of Elijah explicitly clear when he said, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:13-15; cf. Matthew 17:10-13).

Recognizing the truth of John’s words, the people streamed toward him to receive his baptism “as they acknowledged their sins” (Matthew 3:6). We know that on the day of our baptism the stain of original sin was washed away, together with the personal sins we committed until that time, if we were baptized as adults. But we also know that the tendency toward sin remains present in each one of us and that since the day of our baptism we have each committed many sins.

We, too, then need to heed the call of the Baptist to acknowledge our sins to the Lord and to reorient our lives toward him; we, too, need to make the decisive, fundamental change to follow the Lord in all things. By doing so, we prepare the way for him to enter our hearts. We spend so much time and energy preparing to receive and welcome earthly guests into our homes; how much more time and energy ought we to spend preparing our souls to receive the Divine Guest!

We best prepare the way before him by hastening to the confessional, there to make a good confession of our sins. When we do so, by the Lord’s grace and through his great mercy, we remove whatever keeps us from him.

In the honest and humble confession of sins, the Lord’s justice flourishes and his peace is felt (cf. Psalm 72:7). By the grace of this sacrament we are strengthened by his love that we might “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

Because this season of Advent calls us to watch with great joy for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must each consider if this joy is present in us. Do we know, at this moment, the peace of Christ?

If you do feel this joy and know this peace, then pray the God of endurance and encouragement to keep you in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 15:5). If you do not feel this joy and know this peace, then beg the Holy Spirit to help you make a worthy confession of your sins that you may be reconciled to the Lord and look with wonder upon the face of him who is love.

Only when we are reconciled to the Lord and to one another can we truly await the coming of the Lord with the joy and eagerness that is proper to this season of Advent.

We know that we do not always like to wait, yet waiting is in no small way a part of what it means to be human.
Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important
examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness.... One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself:
our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what
we hope for (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 28 November 2010).
What do you await? Are awaiting nothing more than the arrival of earthly things that will pass away? Or are you awaiting that alone which lasts, the love of Jesus Christ?

Let us, then, live fully and truly as await the blessed coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, of him who is our only true and lasting hope. Amen.

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