08-09.12.2007 - Second Sunday in Advent - A
Isaiah 11, 1-10; Psalm 72; Rom 15, 4-9; Matthew 3, 1-12
“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight your paths.
The one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:1-3,11-12)
A millionaire announced to Mark Twain, "Before I die, I will go to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read aloud the Ten Commandments. God will certainly see my gesture and will help me to enter heaven".
Mark Twain observed, "I have a better idea. You could stay home and keep them."
John the Baptist with his preaching is not at all an easy going prophet. He tells openly: “you have to make straight the paths of your life, otherwise don't count on the spectacular gestures in your life. They will not help you at all, and God will certainly “burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
In fact, his message was: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand." In fact, this is exactly the same message that Jesus will proclaim at the beginning of his public life (Mark 1:15). The word for 'repent' here means much more than just being sorry for past misdeeds. The Greek verb metanoeite means having a radical change in one's thinking and style of life. It means seeing the world in a completely different way and taking on board a whole new set of values.
I introduce this homily on sin with an illustration from a layman precisely because many people do not like priests speaking on sin. Many Catholics no longer buy into the concept of personal sin.
We live our lives in an era which has dry cleaned sin away. How else can one explain that so few of us go to Confession?
Eg, a university professor was arrested for collecting his mother's social security for six years after her death. He didn't understand what was wrong.
Nowadays you must feel guilty and ashamed about feeling guilty. If you send people on a guilt trip, God help you! No one else will. You will be called a killjoy.
There is one serious problem in this scenario. Jesus and His main man, John the Baptist, speak more often of sin than of love. There are more references to sin in the New Testament than to love.
A novelist says love means you never have to say you're sorry. John the Baptist replies "Rubbish." Why else would John the Disturber have come in from the desert "proclaiming a baptism of repentance that led to forgiveness of sin?" The Gospels tell us people bought his message hook, line, and sinker, repented of their sins, and were baptized.
Today John the Baptist might well be out of a job. He might be locked up for upsetting people's peace of mind and forced to take antidepressant pills.
Young people are being deprived of education in morals by those who should know better - namely, myself, their parents, and teachers.
What message are we sending boys and girls when we allow public school teachers to demonstrate putting condoms on cucumbers and then present studies of the homosexual lifestyle? They advise students with an ear-to-ear grin to practice safe sex whatever that is.
A Catholic professor in a private college told freshmen that in ethics there is no right or wrong, only points of view. Can you imagine what John the Baptist would have to say to him? Infinitely worse, what he would say to us who tolerate this nonsense?
To airbrush sin away is to turn religion into cherry vanilla ice cream. To bury sin with socio-economic buzz words is to sell Christ out. It makes John the Baptist retch.
Good manners demand that for slight offenses we must say to God, "Excuse me." For serious offenses we must say, "Pardon me." The place to find that pardon is on our knees in the confessional. It is only when we say, "I have sinned!" that God can say, "I forgive you." (Joseph Felix)
When Peter denied Christ, he did not say he blew his cool.
He did not blame his defection on bad toilet training. Matthew's Gospel tells us "he went out and began to weep bitterly." Today, if he was caught weeping, he would be forced to take a holiday.
Judas took responsibility for his betrayal of Christ. He did not say, "Hey, give me a break. It's only my first betrayal."
The prodigal son confessed his sins saying, "Father, I have sinned against God and against you." Check it out in Luke 15:21.
The Gospel of Matthew advises us the first command Jesus spoke to a live audience was a stark one word order, "Repent!"
Christ must have taken his repentance cue from John because today's Gospel tells us the first thing the Baptizer said after walking out of the desert was not "Have a nice day!" but "Repent!" God wants us to be like John the Baptizer. He wants us to be a voice and not a whisper, a burning light and not a dying bulb.
Most of us resemble medieval oil paintings. We are covered with years of dust and grime. Confession is the only way out for us.
Some say that when God made John the Baptist, He threw the mold away. This Advent we should pick up our flashlights, find that mold, and squeeze ourselves into it.
To become a contemporary John the Baptizer would be a wonderful gift to present the Infant that we shall shortly salute. Good people are in short supply in our culture.
In this season, we celebrate not what we are nor what we were but what we could be and want to be. (AU)
Do you get the feeling that Confession should be way up there on your must-do list this Advent?
John the Baptist says to us today, "If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up space."