The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent

Readings: Is 11:1-10; Ps 72; Rom 14:4-9; Mt 3:1-12

"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."

My dad used to read the Gospels to us on Saturday morning, and I remember him reading this passage from Matthew about John the Baptist, and liking the sound of that phrase, “…make straight his paths.” When I asked who John the Baptist was, Dad told me he was a saint and also Jesus’ cousin. I thought that was pretty neat, being God's cousin. But I was especially intrigued by his name, and suggested that instead of Dana McCarthy from now on the family should call me Dana the Smart…Hey, I was only six. My older brother modified this slightly and began calling me Dana the Dope.

About a week later, my dad, my brother and I were riding our bikes in a town park when we came upon a surveying team. When we stopped to watch them. I asked my dad what they were doing. He said they were making a new path through the park, making sure it was straight and level.

At about that time the supervisor, who apparently knew my father, came over and said hello. A moment later he turned at me and said, “Hi there.” My reply? “You’re John the Baptist, aren’t you?”

Well, it seemed logical to me. And so was added another snippet of family lore.

"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths."

Although John the Baptist wasn’t a surveyor, he was something far greater, a prophet who proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is the message and the meaning of Advent: Preparing for the coming of Jesus.

The question is: How and what are we to prepare? Quite simply, we are called on to prepare ourselves through conversion.

A few moments ago, during today’s opening prayer, Father King, praying for all of us gathered here today, asked God to “Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy.” This is how we make straight the Lord’s path – by removing the obstacles that we, in our sinfulness, place in His way.

The trouble is, when we pray these words, do we truly mean them? Or are we like the Christian that C. S. Lewis described as praying faintly – for otherwise God might actually hear him.

“Remove the things that hinder us…”

For most of us, these things, these obstacles, represent the habits of a lifetime, and are very much a part of our nature. To remove them can be painful. It’s almost unnatural. It’s not natural to be selfless when our human nature is basically selfish. It’s not natural to love God and our neighbor when love of self keeps getting in the way. It’s not natural to step out of our busy lives, if only for a moment each day, and listen to God’s voice as He calls on us to conversion.

For this is what Advent is: a call to conversion, a call to change. And this morning, from across the centuries, John the Baptist gives us some down-to-earth advice on how to respond to God’s call.

Make straight His paths. John tells us to fill in the valleys, all those dark nooks and crannies of our lives that we foolishly try to seal off from God. These are the dark corners that we don’t want disturbed, even though we know they prevent God from entering into our innermost being. We all have some darkness in our lives because we’re all sinners. And only light dispels darkness, the light of God’s love.

John tells us to level mountains, mountains of pride, bigotry, anger that we build up because we think so much of ourselves and so little of others. To profess that we love God while remaining indifferent to the plight of others is a contradiction. And so, our journey through Advent demands humility, because it’s impossible to have a personal relationship with God when our egos are in competition with Him.

To see the new we have to be willing to shed the old. To see the possible, we have to stop believing the impossible.  What in your life needs conversion? What obstacles have you placed in God’s path? What in your life is preventing Him from coming close?

“Remove the things that hinder us…”

All of this making room for God in our hearts can be a time-consuming and demanding business. It forces us to change so much in our lives. It demands that we actually accept God’s rule in our lives.

You know those signs you see every once in a while along the highway? “Jesus saves!” Well, they’re right. Jesus does save, because you and I can’t save ourselves. But for Jesus to save us, he needs our cooperation, for He’s a benign ruler. He doesn’t force Himself on us. He doesn‘t demand. He doesn’t even ask. He simply invites, and waits for you to accept His invitation.

And God is patient. He’ll wait as long as it takes, up until the moment we take our last breath. But He calls us to persevere, not to put it off. As Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading, “…by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” God’s patience is for our benefit: He wants no one to perish. And so, for us who live in time, every day is an opportunity to respond, a gift of God’s mercy.

Advent is the story of eons of God’s own eternal persistent waiting. It’s the story of His plan to let us search for Him until finally we simply allow Him to find us. And then we can respond with our own “Yes.” Of course, saying ‘Yes’ to conversion is means more than just giving our word. It means living God’s Word, accepting and sharing God’s love in our lives.

Have you ever considered that for many of the people you know and encounter, you may be the only manifestation of the Gospel they ever experience? We must, like God Himself, act out of love. It was love that created the universe and keeps creation in existence. And it’s love that reaches out to move our hearts as well, to bring us to salvation. He reaches out to us through Jesus Christ, the great sign of the Father’s love, the manifestation of His will to save.

“Not by appearance shall he judge,” says Isaiah in today’s 1st reading, “nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.” This is the saving power of Christ, God’s love incarnate. The day of salvation has already dawned in Christ. He will baptize in the Holy Spirit, John tells us. And this Spirit, once given in Christ, is the constant renewal of the Father’s love.

When we invite Jesus into our lives, when we make room for Him in our hearts, we become like John the Baptist. Our lives become an announcement, telling everyone, through acts of kindness, honesty and faithfulness, that Christ is among us.

As we await Jesus’ return and the age to come, let’s not forget that a day will come in each of our lives when we will meet Jesus face to face. Our life is a continual advent for that moment, so let’s not delay preparing for our own personal coming of the Lord.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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