Yesterday was the Second Sunday of Advent and below is my homily.
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Expectations and Preparation
We are just a few weeks away from Christmas Day and the children and perhaps more than a few adults are wondering what they are going to find in their stockings and under their tree when they wake up. What are you expecting? What are you waiting eagerly to unwrap and enjoy?
There is no doubt that anticipation is building. The ads on television and in the papers make even the most ascetic among is twinge with at least a bit of desire. As much as I am supposed to decry commercialism and the excessive lust that such advertisements induce, I think the anticipation and heightened state of expectation that it creates in us can and should serve as a reminder of what this season really is about, yearning for and expecting the coming of Jesus.
This is the season of expectation and preparation. Advent, the Latin term means “coming,” denotes this season when we await the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one, who will bring us salvation from our sins, restoring our relationship with God. On the most obvious level we are, of course, remembering that Jesus the Messiah came to earth as a human, but this season is also to be a time of preparation and looking forward to his coming again, as Christus victor, the conquerer of death.
In the years leading up to Jesus’ birth Jews were remembering passages such as that read from the prophet Isaiah this morning. Passages that told of God sending a descendent of David who would restore God’s rule and order and, most of all, God’s justice. Their hopes and expectations were for deliverance from very real and physical oppression. They looked around and saw suffering and hardship, the poor and the hungry, people being arrested and tortured for their beliefs (cf. Macc.) and called out for God to send his promised Messiah. And they looked for a king, a mighty warrior like David who would defeat the Romans and bring a new Jewish dynasty to the throne.
But others, like John the Baptist, looked beyond this world and declared that God’s Kingdom, not David’s was near and immanent. The Kingdom of Heaven was upon them. Their expectations had to be adjusted and preparations had to be made in order to enter into this new Kingdom.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Advent is not yet Christmas. We are not ready for it. This season, like Lent, is a time of preparation and we must head John’s call and repent. This means that we must take stock of our lives, consider our sins, how we have disobeyed God and hurt Him and our neighbors, and ask for his forgiveness.
Most of us spend the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas decorating our homes, cleaning the house, putting up lights and greens, getting out the ornaments that we have had since we were children, helping our children choose new ones that they will treasure. We prepare our homes for Christmas Day.
In the same way we must prepare ourselves. We need to sweep out our lives, clearing the corners and the cracks, in expectation of the coming of Christ. Not just for the day that we commemorate his first arrival in this world, but in the knowledge that he is coming again. And John tell us what it should look like when we are prepared for his coming, what it means to be members of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Consider that we are the Pharisees and Sadducees. You will recall that these were the leaders of the Jewish community. They were not necessarily priests, but they were those who were active in attending services and working in the community, often doing very good things for those around them. The fact that we are here on this Sunday morning, means that we should consider ourselves as reflected in them.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. … Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
These seem awfully strong words for a time we usually associate with the beautiful baby Jesus and angels singing, but we must remember that the Messiah comes to bring God’s justice and that also means punishment for sin. He shall separate the wheat from the chaff. But John does not reject the Pharisees and Sadducees, they are his family, his brothers and sisters too, but he calls them to repent and change and offers them the baptism with water for repentance. And when they, when we have repented and been baptized our condition will be known by the fruit that we bear, fruit that is worthy of repentance.
This fruit is charity, love for one another, even and especially those we do not like. (Never forget, liking and loving are two very different things. God calls us to love others, not to like them.) We should strive for righteousness and justice in all things and at all times and we must never forget that our own righteousness comes solely through the sacrifice of the son of God, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
As we decorate our homes in preparation for Christmas, let this also be a meditative and contemplative process. Let the ornaments that we hang upon the tree cause us to consider what fruit of repentance we are producing. As we hang evergreens and put up our tree may it remind us of the everlasting life that we have in Christ.
Advent is a time of great expectation, preparation, and great joy. And our joy flows most freely and deeply because we know that we have indeed been forgiven by the one who came as baby to give his life for ours.