05 December 2021

Homily - The Sunday Sunday of Advent - 5 December 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As a student of history – in which I hold a Bachelor of Arts – I always marvel at the Gospel compiled by the Evangelist Saint Luke. Though trained in the medical profession, he shows himself again and again to be a careful historian, one very much concerned with historical details such as what we hear from his Gospel today.

Saint Luke goes to great lengths to situate Jesus within human history. At the opening of his Gospel, he tells us his sources: “…those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” and that he wrote his account of the life of Jesus – and of the Church – so “that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:2, 4).

For example, he tells us that Christ Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire and when Syria was governed by Quirinius. Most people are at least familiar when Augustus, the nephew of Julius Caesar who at birth was given the name Octavian, but few are familiar with Publius Sulpicius Quirinius; for now, let us just note that he died in year A.D. 21 and is known to historians who have coins dating from his governorship.

But situating Jesus in the context of the reigns of Augustus and Quirinius was not enough for Saint Luke. As if to lay aside all doubts or false claims that he simply made up his account, he gives us the names of other important personages during the time when Saint John the Baptist announced the coming of the Messiah. He mentions Tiberius Caesar who succeed Augustus as Emperor of Rome. Other government officials named by Saint Luke include Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Philip, with whom we are familiar and whom historians know. But then there is also Lysanias, of whom we have an inscription from the temple noting that he built a road. Then there are Annas and Caiaphas, who will reappear during the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. The inclusion of these historical places situates Jesus within a real time and an actual place.

Saint Luke’s purpose in mentioning these seven men is both simple and profound:

to say that the history of God is mixed with this history of ours. God does not make a parallel history, an alternative to that of man. There is only one history, for God and for man; and man will not have to look for another if he wants to find God: he will find Him inside this story, inside the fold of these names that we hear in the passage of the Gospel and in today’s world.[1]

This is just the start of what Saint Luke intends to tell us through the list of these names. “Seven names, pagans and Jews, to say that salvation is for everyone…”[2]

To put it perhaps more pointedly, we might rightly say that the intention of Saint Luke, while being

…concerned with the historicity of Jesus as opposed to the unhistorical nature of a mythical bringer of salvation, … was not … to demonstrate that we can visit the places that the historical Jesus visited, hold in our hands the coins that he touched, or read the scrolls that he knew. He showed the historicity of Jesus clearly enough, but he went further and pointed to the universality of Jesus. Jesus did not belong to one people. He belonged and still belongs to the oikoumene [to the inhabited world].[3]

But when the prophet Isaiah and Saint John the Baptist both prophesied that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” what did they mean (Isaiah 40:5; Luke 3:20)?

Saint Augustine of Hippo proposed an answer to this question when he said:

Consider the text “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” There is no difficulty at all in taking this to mean “And all flesh shall see the Christ of God.” After all, Christ was seen in the body and will be seen in the body when he comes again to judge the living and the dead. Scripture has many texts showing that he is the “salvation of God,” particularly the words of the venerable old man, Simeon, who took the child in his arms and said, “Now let your servant go in peace, O Lord, according to your word, because my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).[4]

We can also see this central truth, this deepest longing, of the Christian faith in the very name of Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.”

Both Isaiah and John admonish us to take down whatever hinders us from seeing Christ Jesus, to remove level whatever obstructs our sight of him, and to remove whatever keeps us from looking him in the eyes (cf. Isaiah 40:3-4; Luke 3:4-5). In short, we must be reconciled with Jesus.

Is this not the very purpose of these days of Advent during which we devote ourselves to preparing for the Lord’s coming? It is not enough to put up trees, wreaths, and boughs; it is not enough to purchase gifts and wrap them; it is not enough to bake cookies and attend parties; it is not enough to send cards and sing carols. In the midst of all of this, we cannot forget that

…it is today, in the present, that our future destiny is being played out. It is our actual conduct in this life that decides our eternal fate. At the end of our days on earth, at the moment of death, we will be evaluated on the basis of our likeness - or lack of it - to the Child who is about to be born in the poor grotto of Bethlehem, because he is the criterion of the measure that God has given to humanity. The Heavenly Father, who expressed his merciful love to us through the birth of his Only-Begotten Son, calls us to follow in his footsteps, making our existence, as he did, a gift of love. And the fruit of love is that fruit which "befits repentance", to which John the Baptist refers while he addresses cutting words to the Pharisees and Sadducees among the crowds who had come for Baptism.[5]

Let us, then, hear the words of Saint John the Baptist again, as if for the first time: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Luke 3:4).

May it never be said of us that we forgot “Advent is synonymous with hope, not the vain waiting for a faceless god, but concrete and certain trust in the return of him who has already visited us.”[6] We ought, then, to allow Saint John’s words to pierce our hearts, to convict us and convince us “to discern what is of value” that we may be filled with hope as we await the return of the Redeemer (Philippians 1:10).

If we do what John says, when the Lord comes again into the external desert of this world and the internal desert of our hearts, he will find us “pure and blameless,” ready to look upon the beauty of his Face and “put on the splendor of glory from God forever” (Philippians 1:10; Baruch 5:1). Amen.

[1] Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 5 December 2021. Accessed 4 December 2021. Available at https://www.lpj.org/apostolic-administrator/meditation-of-patriarch-pierbattista-pizzaballa-second-sunday-of-advent-year-c.html?fbclid=IwAR3plX4tNszQVjPrb44JXmk3RP3WgsCCPm0EGVfKxpBFFrU3wpSnNf-upJ8.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Joseph Ratzinger, Seeking God’s Face: Meditations for the Church Year (Providence, Rhode Island: Cluny, 2020), 98-99.

[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 22.39.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 9 December 2007.

[6] Pope Saint John Paul II, Angelus Address, 2 December 2001.

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